Union vs. Non-Union 101: A Comprehensive Guide

Posted on: Jun 22, 2023

director on setPhoto courtesy of Grusho Anna / Shutterstock

By Steffanie Jensen

Film and television production is an exhilarating and fast-paced industry, brimming with opportunities for talented individuals such as yourself. As you embark on your journey, it’s crucial to understand the key differences between working in a unionized environment, versus the non-union realm. In this blog, we will provide you with a high-level overview of joining unions and working non-union in the world of film and TV.

Union: United We Stand

Joining a union, such as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) or the Directors Guild of America (DGA), can be a significant step for any production worker. Unions serve as collective bargaining agents—negotiating contracts that ensure fair wages, benefits and safe working conditions. They provide a sense of security, camaraderie and a platform to address workplace issues.

Benefits of Joining a Union

Competitive Wages and Benefits: Unions strive to negotiate favorable contracts that establish minimum pay rates, overtime compensation, healthcare coverage, retirement plans and other essential benefits. These agreements can help level the playing field and ensure a fair share for workers.

Job Security: Unions advocate for job security by establishing rules and protocols for hiring, promotions and layoffs. They also provide grievance procedures to address any disputes or issues that may arise on-set.

Professional Development and Networking: Unions often offer training programs, workshops and networking events to enhance members’ skills, knowledge and industry connections. These opportunities can open doors to further career growth and advancement.

Safety and Work Standards: Unions prioritize the safety and well-being of their members, working alongside production companies to establish safety protocols and enforce compliance. This ensures a secure and healthy working environment for everyone involved.

Considerations for Working Non-Union

Pay Rates and Negotiation: In non-union projects, pay rates can vary significantly, and negotiations may be required for each job. It’s essential to research industry standards, budget constraints and your own worth to ensure fair compensation for your skills and contributions.

Limited Benefits: Unlike unionized work, non-union productions may not offer the same comprehensive benefits package. Workers are responsible for securing their own health insurance, retirement plans and other necessary protections. During turbulent and unpredictable times such as when unions vote to strike, it can be beneficial to take non-union work as allowed per your individual guild status to stay productive.

Networking and Reputation: Building a strong professional network and reputation is crucial in the non-union world. Word-of-mouth referrals, positive testimonials and establishing relationships with industry professionals can lead to more opportunities and career growth.

Rights and Protections: It’s important to be aware that non-union productions may not have the same stringent regulations and protections as unionized environments. Researching the production company, understanding your rights and signing clear contracts are essential steps to safeguard your interests.

Non-Union: Carving Your Path

While joining a union has its advantages, the non-union sector of the industry also presents unique opportunities for aspiring film and TV production workers. Non-union productions encompass independent films, web series, commercials and projects with smaller budgets. Working non-union can provide you with valuable experience, a chance to build a diverse portfolio and the flexibility to explore various roles and genres.

Embrace Your Journey

Ultimately, whether you choose to join a union or work non-union, the decision should align with your career goals, personal circumstances and aspirations. Researching industry standards, understanding your rights and leveraging platforms like Staff Me Up can help you navigate the path that’s right for you. Remember—your journey in the film and TV industry is unique, and both union and non-union avenues offer their own rewards and challenges. Embrace learning opportunities, be proactive in expanding your network, and always prioritize your professional growth and well-being. With the right knowledge and determination, you can forge a successful career in this captivating world of lights, cameras and action.

Valuable References

For more information on unions, please browse the following sites:

  1. International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE): Visit their website at www.iatse.net for more information on various locals and their benefits.
  2. Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA): Explore www.sagaftra.org to learn about the union’s resources, contracts and membership benefits.
  3. Directors Guild of America (DGA): Check out www.dga.org to discover the DGA’s role in the industry and the benefits it offers to directors.

For more insights into the world of production, visit Staff Me Up and browse our comprehensive list of jobs today!

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