Q. Can my child work non-union if we do Financial Core?
Yes. SAG’s “Rule One” states that once you become a union member, you are banned from doing non-union work ever again. As a Fi-core worker, a person who has resigned from SAG, you are NOT bound by Rule One, since you are not a union member. “Fee paying non-members” (aka FPNMs, or Fi-core) may work both union and non-union. FPNMs can also work during a strike, since unions have no power to discipline non-members (but see next question about getting back into the union later).
Q. Does my child have to resign from the union to go Fi-core? What if she wants back in later?
You can either opt to “go financial core” at the time your child would normally join SAG/AFTRA (after the normal 30 day Taft-Hartley period) and refuse to join, OR your child can resign their membership in the union at any time if they are already a member. So yes…the child needs to “quit the union” in order to “go Fi-core”. There is a new policy regarding FPNMs who want to return to SAG (see below).
Q. Does SAG have some NEW policy?
Yes. A new policy at SAG took affect on June 14, 2007. The policy is a change in the reinstatement policy for all terminated members (this means it would apply to Fi-core, or terminated members who left for other reasons). This change represents a huge shift in how financial core workers are viewed if and when they want to re-join the union.
Basically, now the presumption of SAG is that going financial core (or resigning for any reason) is a PERMANENT decision. They assume that you will never want to come back, and thus you can never re-join the union. If you do want to be reinstated, they will make you jump through some significant hoops, and even then reinstatement might not be granted.
If you want to be reinstated to union membership, you must request a waiver of the new policy. Then you will need to attend a face-to-face meeting with the Disciplinary Review Committee aka the DRC (made up of members, celebrities, and elected board members). At that hearing they will ask you to provide evidence of all your non-union jobs (both for educational purposes at the guild, and so that you won’t be brought up on charges for Rule One violations—it creates an amnesty list of sorts). If the DRC grants you a waiver of the policy, you could then apply for reinstatement.
Exception for anyone who resigned prior to 6/14/07: SAG is providing a kind of amnesty program for those who have already gone Fi-core, in an effort to bring them back into the fold, but they must act by 12/31/07. If they would like to request reinstatement, they can be considered under the old policy. They may send a letter to Sally Tich, Manager of Member Education. The letter should include a complete non-member work record, and a $100 application fee. In 3-4 weeks, they will receive member documents with the additional dues they would need to pay (depending on the situation, could be 20% or 100% of initiation dues, plus any back fees).
Q. Why would a child actor want to come back after going Fi-core?
Perhaps the realized that they wanted to run for office in SAG as an adult. Perhaps they went Fi-core while working in a Right-to-Work state, and now they moved to a major market. Perhaps they realized that Fi-core status had lessened the amount of pay they got. Perhaps they decided the fringe benefits of SAG were worth it (iActor, workshops, etc).
Q. How common is Fi-core?
That’s a toughie. SAG reports that it is a “very, very, small percentage, less than 2% of the total membership of SAG". If you do a Google search of the term Fi-core or Financial Core, you will find hundreds of actor websites that promote this status on their resumes. It seems to be particularly prevalent in the voiceover community. LA Casting and Nowcasting have profile search options that include Fi-core.
Clearly union membership nationwide is faltering. According to the US Dept of Labor, the private sector (not just entertainment unions) lost 369,000 union members in 2003 alone. Only 8.2% of all private sector workers belong to a labor union. It is commonly believed that the practice of financial core is growing, but perhaps not as quickly in the entertainment community as in other sectors of the workforce. SAG formed a Financial Core Task Force in 2007 which resulted in an immediate reduction in requests for Fi-core status.
Several celebrities have declared financial core including Jon Voight and Erik Estrada, along with many newscasters who are Fi-core AFTRA members. Barry Williams (Brady Bunch) is Fi-core in AEA. Contrary to popular belief, Charleton Heston was NOT financial core in SAG, although he could have been that status in another union. Celebrities are in a unique bunch though—they don’t need the union and are able to negotiate their salaries at their regular rate, even for non-union jobs. Still, most of them recall their early days in the business and remember how the guild benefited them so they remain loyal despite not needing the benefits of the union.
Q. Why is Fi-core such well-kept secret?
Actors don’t want to share because they are afraid of the stigma associated with it by other actors (see below). They also don’t want to divulge their secret for getting jobs!
SAG used to have a sort of “don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy”, but has recently launched an awareness campaign regarding financial core. They are now taking a pro-active approach to educate actors on what their rights are, and what the consequences are of going Fi-core, in hopes that actors will choose membership. This new approach has included a new committee, a protest at a non-union commercial in LA, press releases, a new reinstatement policy, a hotline, and a website section. Fi-core isn’t likely to be a secret much longer.
Q. Is all that political belief stuff in the history section still true? Are beliefs still a legitimate reason to go Financial Core?
It is still true that our union, as part of the AFL-CIO, supports Democratic causes and some particular issue that might be offensive to families (surveys show that some 40% of union members vote Republican). But even more specifically, SAG pays thousands to full-time lobbyists. But the bulk of their money is spent on runaway production legislation, designed to create more work. Only 3.95% of SAG dues are used for “non-chargeable” (possibly political) activities. For kids SAG/AFTRA has sponsored the Coogan laws and its revisions, which a parent may or may not agree with. Your union dues pay for those laws. So yes, it is likely that for child actors, disagreement with SAG’s political agenda is a valid reason to go financial core.
Q. Isn’t this weakening the union as a whole? Is it union-busting?
It is weakening to the union, no question. The truth is, if everyone went Fi-core, there would BE no union, and that is not an idea to be taken lightly. Unions are based on the idea of grouping like-minded people together and bargaining as a collective group. If anyone chooses to work for less than union minimums, it weakens the ability of the union to enforce those minimums. If a portion of that group is not REALLY members, it lessens the bargaining power dramatically.
That said, advocates would say that Fee Paying Non-Members ARE paying their fair share of dues. They are paying for the collective bargaining, the main purpose of any union, like everyone else. They are simply cutting the “fat” of political spending, and are choosing not to look at the union as a club, but a business expense.
Q. When I am on a union job, will my child be treated differently?
If you are working a union job, you must be treated like everyone else. Safety provisions, contract provisions, minimum wages and the like are determined by the job, not by your individual status, just like that union job that made you SAG eligible to begin with (you weren’t a union member then either, remember?). In California, almost all child working conditions are determined by State law anyway—union or non-union doesn’t matter. No one would know you were Fi-core unless you tell them.
Treatment by other actors is another story. Actors who are union supporters often see Fi-core actors as “scabs” and union busters. That is why most Fi-core actors simply don’t discuss their status. For a taste of that, see these links from a message boards:
Q. Would my agent want me to go financial core?
Our advice would be to ask them. We have heard of agents advising their child actors to do this recently. We’ve also talked to several managers who claim to have many financial core clients. With the increase in non-union, high paying work out there (Mattel, Nickelodeon, and Disney all do non-union work, and a recent non-union Target commercial paid $5,000), who can blame the agent for not wanting those commissions?
That doesn’t mean however, that your agent’s interests (short term income) are the same as yours (long term career?). Your agents’ opinion may also depend on their SAG status (franchised or ATA) because they may not be willing to send you out on non-union jobs anyway, which might negate the benefit of Fi-core for your child. Ask the agent and see what they say, BEFORE you decide.
Q. Why not just stay SAG and do non-union work anyway?
Two reasons: 1. it is dishonest. When your child joined SAG you (and they) promised that you would honor SAG Rule One and not do union work. You signed a document to that effect. Doing non-union work sends a poor message to our kids about keeping promises, and 2. Since your child is a SAG member, they are opening themselves up to severe discipline within the union if they do non-union work. SAG takes this very seriously (even with kids), and gets tips on non-union workers from other cast members, crew who are union, call sheets, photos, etc. The normal process is that SAG’s legal department will send you a letter demanding that you explain yourself, fill out a form, etc. Then you go to a trial hearing before the Discipline Review Committee at SAG. Often the penalty for doing non-union work is a significant fine, suspension or termination from membership. Is it worth it?
Q. Will my child lose my pension and health benefits?
No. The Pension and Health funds are actually separate organizations from the unions themselves. Your child will continue to qualify for health and pension. That cannot legally be taken away from them. They will be entitled to the contract benefits (paid for by producers) when they are working on a SAG job. IF, however, your child works non-union jobs, those producers will not contribute to the Pension and Health plan so those non-union earnings are not going to count toward your P&H qualification (they don’t now anyway). Nothing changes in this area.
Q. Can my child vote in SAG elections/hold office? What about iActor? Would they lose any other benefits?
You DO lose the right to vote or hold office (kids can’t hold office now anyway) when you declare Fi-core. You do lose the right to try and affect the union from within. You will not have the benefit of a listing on iActor (SAG’s casting database). You will also lose other membership benefits including SAG Conservatory, SAG casting director workshops, SAG Foundation events, Film Society, strike relief fund benefits, etc. Many of these benefits are not accessible to young performers anyway, so this may be a non-issue for you. Your child will not receive a SAG card since they are not a member.
Q. Do I have to join SAG if I am in a Right to Work State? If I do, what happens when I go back home?
For kids who come out for pilot season this is a legitimate issue. In Right to Work states, most child actors do NOT join the union because there simply isn’t enough union work and they don’t have to. When they come to LA for pilot season however, they are subject to California law (a “union security” state). It would be wise for parents in this situation to carefully consider their union membership status. If you join SAG, and go back home (to Texas, Florida or another Right to Work state) you can never again do non-union work even back home. You must follow the rules of membership, including SAG Rule One. If you are financial core, you can go back home and continue to work non-union.
Q. Will I save money on dues if I go Fi-core? What is the difference between Fi-Core and Honorary Withdrawal?
You don’t save much money with financial core (about 3.95% in 2007). That certainly isn’t a strong enough reason to make this important step. If money is an issue, you may be looking for another option called Honorary Withdrawal (HW). HW is a function where you can decide that you are no longer seeking union work and wish to withdraw your membership. You must be a paid up SAG member to do this. At the point you request HW, your dues will stop accumulating. You may NOT audition or accept SAG employment. You are still bound to the rules if the SAG Constitution though (no non-union work). This is a good option for kids who go off to college or just hit the dry years of teen acting and decide to pursue other things. They can request HW, drop out of the business, and pick it up again as full SAG members (with no hassle) when they are adults. HW is common and is not looked down upon within SAG.
Also, a note about money: a Fee Paying Non-Member may choose to pay the full amount of SAG fees if they want to. When FPNM status is requested, members must specify what fees they are willing to pay (the 96.5% or the full 100%).
Q. Is it true that there is a blacklisting by producers or by SAG?
This is an unknown. Logically, producers would be in favor of Fi-core actors, so there is no reason to blacklist them. Casting would generally be in the same position—they are hired to get the actors that the producers want. Fi-core would just make that easier. Still, there is a good bit of misinformation out there, so it is likely that producers and casting staff might not understand the Fi-core concept at all.
Many actors fear SAG itself in the blacklisting department. Financial core is your right and SAG understands that. They also understand that they cannot impede your ability to work. It is illegal (a violation of Federal Labor Law and an unfair labor practice) for SAG to deny you a work opportunity because of financial core status (remember, you are paying your fair share). But many actors fear that when production calls SAG to get a clearance for work (Station 12) that staffers will give incorrect information. SAG tells us that will not happen. Station 12 can only answer the question “is this actor eligible to work?” (paid up member or FPNM, as long as the fees are paid up). It is a “yes or no answer” according to SAG, and they would not risk the legal ramifications of doing anything else.
If you ever think blacklisting is happening to your child, you can file a claim with the National Labor Relations Board. If you find yourself in this situation, you can find information and legal assistance at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Bottom line: blacklisting might be an urban legend, might not.
Q. Can I say my child is a SAG member on their resume?
This has yet to be decided in court, but it probably will be eventually. SAG says NO. Their position is that your child is not a member (they didn’t give you a membership card) and thus you don’t have the right use the term “SAG”, which is a benefit of membership. It is a trademark violation, and SAG is known for actively protecting their trademark. Fi-core advocates would say that is absurd, that Fi-core “members” are “members of a different degree” since you are compelled to pay “dues” (vs. SAG’s term of “fees”) to the union and you are a member of their bargaining unit. Semantics.
SAG eligible actors often use the term “SAGe” on their resumes, and that is basically the same thing (they aren’t members either). In the same way, “SAG Fi-core” would probably be understandable to casting and is still truthful. One actor we found simply had a page on his website that linked to his resume and explained Financial Core this way: www.paulpayton.com/financialcore.htm
That might be a bit much for a resume, but maybe it isn’t necessary to mention union status on a resume at all. In reality, a resume is a marketing tool…why advertise that you are willing to work for a “sale price”(less than union minimums)?
Q. How do I declare Fi-core at SAG or AFTRA?
If you are currently a union member, you must first resign your union membership, and then declare your financial core rights. If you are not yet a union member, you would wait until you were a “must join” and then claim your rights, rather than join. You do this via certified letter to the union, return receipt requested (so you have proof later). A sample letter might include the following language:
Dear XYZ Executive Director of XYZ Union:
Since I object to that portion of my compulsory union dues which does not finance the contract process, I hereby resign full constitutional membership in the XYZ union and declare myself a financial core status worker in all jurisdictions of your contracts with employers. I make this declaration within the meaning of “financial core worker” as defined in the series of US Supreme Court decisions culminating in CWA v. BECK.
I understand that I am resigning my membership and that I will be re-classified as a “fee paying non-member”. Please recalculate my financial core dues amount owed within the existing XYZ union policy and National Labor Relations Board guidelines.
*NOTE: letter must have original signature
The union may then send you a bill for the reduced dues or at least a confirmation letter, but each union has their own policies about this. You must PAY the fees. Again, this is not Honorary Withdrawal. Another tip might be to carry your bill with you as proof that you have, in fact paid your fees, in case producers or casting get confused by the terminology.
Q. Does SAG have any direct info about financial core?
Yes. Thanks to SAG’s new philosophy regarding financial core, there are a couple of ways to get information directly from SAG. We highly recommend you contact them before making any decisions about your membership status. They actually want to talk to you! There are at least 3 ways to get information from SAG:
- Your first contact with SAG regarding financial core would likely be the Eligibility Letter a person is supposed to receive when they become SAG eligible. We realize that many actors never receive this notice due to clerical mis-steps (ie. background actors whose vouchers are not always tallied correctly). This letter informs you that you are now eligible to join SAG, and it also includes a “Beck Notice”, the part of the letter that lets you know you can choose NOT to join (aka Fi-core). SAG recently put up a section about financial core on their website: http://www.sag.org/getthefacts/ficore2.html
- SAG has also established a Financial Core hotline at 323-549-6667. It leads to a machine where you can leave a message. The reason for the machine is so that the caller can be routed to the appropriate branch office to get their specific questions answered. (Fi-core issues in Seattle, for example, may be different than those in Los Angeles). The hotline is checked every day, and a SAG staff member will call back to schedule an appointment time to talk.
- Lastly, if you have done all of the above and still haven’t had your questions answered, you can request to speak directly to Sally Tich, Manager of Membership Education at 323-549-6019 Ms. Tich is extremely friendly, knowledgeable and wants to help you understand financial core.
Q. So is this a good deal for kids or not?
You have to make your own decision on that one. Financial Core appears to be a viable option for kids, since they do not enjoy many of the benefits SAG offers anyway. However, the decision to exercise your rights should not be taken lightly. There are risks involved and depending on your child’s individual situation (where they are in their career, their age, their agent, the amount of non-union work in your area, etc) it just may not be worth it.