Voice Actor. Author. Alien. Human

Hiring a Voiceover Artist: Union and Non Union

This article is part of the Hiring a Voiceover Artist series. You can find the rest of the articles here. 

SAG-AFTRA. A combination of two unions that now represents every aspect of voiceover work in the United States. But what is it, what does it mean, and what path should you take in your project?

This can be an awkward and confusing topic for several reasons, and let me start by explaining why I think this is the case. This is only my opinion, of course, and even among voice actors this is a divisive, contentious issue.

Voiceover used to be two towers - one in New York, and one in Los Angeles. Those two towers of NYC and LA held the lion’s share of voice work, and therefore collective bargaining via a union was easy. The talent pool wasn’t as big. The industry wasn’t as big. Nobody was looking for Kickstarter videos or e-learning courses in 1975. Or even 1995. All SAG had to worry about was basically radio and television, and that was really only happening in two major cities in the United States. People knew members of the SAG AFTRA board by name, because the community was small.

If you wanted a voiceover, you needed to go through the union. That’s the way it was.

Not in 2017, it ain’t. The industry is so huge now that it’s impossible for an organization to keep track of bajilions of projects. It’s almost ridiculous to expect SAG to manage residuals and contracts for every little project that happens all over the United States. So now we have a huge part of the industry that is non-union. Instead of two towers, the industry kind of looks like a sprawling landscape with cities and villages, with two large hills where the towers used to be. The industry has dramatically expanded.

Does that mean that collective bargaining is no longer effective? Absolutely not. SAG-AFTRA does, and always will, still represent the baseline etiquette, rates, and contracts for the entire industry. Even if talent aren’t in the union, it’s the union contracts that determine what is fair, acceptable, and expected for voiceover artists. See my rates article for more infoon why non-union does notmean race to the bottom - and why voiceover artists won’t work for you if that’s your attitude.

My opinion? In a perfect world (for us, anyway) all talent would be union. All union contracts would be updated to represent the most recent trends in technology, advertising, and entertainment. All jobs would be union. But that’s not the world we live in. Actors are forced to navigate the industry’s landscape to feed their families - we have to go where the jobs are, and sometimes that’s the wild west of non-union.

So, should you hire union talent? That’s up to you. Does the union have the majority of the best talent? Yes, I think it does, but it certainly doesn’t have the monopoly. If you need help converting your jobs to union jobs, try to reach out to SAG directly. 

Either way, it is still important that you become familiar with the current union contracts so that you can understand the industry that you’re about to tap into.

If this has been helpful to you, or you have questions, please feel free to comment below! You can follow my blog by signing up at the top of this page, and you can get more updates via Twitter and Facebook.

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