Row of people in silouette

Q. Can my child work non-union if we do Financial Core?

Yes. SAG-AFTRA’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-AFTRA, 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 the union (see below).

Q. Does SAG-AFTRA have some NEW policy?

A new policy at SAG took effect on June 14, 2007 (not exactly new, and before the SAG-AFTRA merger). 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.

The presumption of SAG-AFTRA 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 National Financial Core Committee (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 Financial Core Committee grants you a waiver of the policy, you could then apply for reinstatement.

Q. Why would a child actor want to come back after going Fi-core?

Perhaps they realized that they wanted to run for office in SAG-AFTRA 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-AFTRA were worth it (iActor, workshops, etc).

Q. How common is Fi-core?

VERY uncommon.  According to the latest report SAG-AFTRA filed with the Department of Labor (2017), there are 160,776 total members of SAG-AFTRA, and 3,096 Fee Paying Non-Members.  If you do the math, that’s less than 2%.  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 has a profile search option that includes Fi-core.

Clearly union membership nationwide is faltering. According to the US Dept of Labor, only 10.7% of all American workers are members of a labor union, which is a new low in history.  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.

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 launched an awareness campaign regarding financial core many years ago. 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 website page.  If it is a secret, it isn’t likely to be 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 about 4% of SAG-AFTRA 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 the union’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-AFTRA 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.

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-AFTRA and do non-union work anyway?

Two reasons: 1. it is dishonest. When your child joined SAG-AFTRA you (and they) promised that you would honor 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-AFTRA member, they are opening themselves up to severe discipline within the union if they do non-union work. SAG-AFTRA 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 (DRC) at SAG-AFTRA. Often the penalty for doing non-union work is a significant fine, suspension or termination from membership. Is it worth it putting your child through that?

Q. Will my child lose their 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-AFTRA 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 the child’s P&H qualification (they don’t now anyway). Nothing changes in this area.

Q. Can my child vote in SAG-AFTRA 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 rarely-used casting database). You will also lose other membership benefits including awards screeners, SAG Conservatory, SAG-AFTRA casting access workshops, SAG-AFTRA 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-AFTRA 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-AFTRA, and go back home (to Georgia, 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 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 4%). 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-AFTRA member to do this. At the point you request HW, your dues will stop accumulating. You may NOT audition or accept SAG-AFTRA employment. You are still bound to the rules if the SAG-AFTRA 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 union members (with no hassle) when they are adults. HW is common and is not looked down upon within SAG-AFTRA.

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% 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-AFTRA itself in the blacklisting department. Financial core is your right and SAG-AFTRA 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-AFTRA 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-AFTRA to get a clearance for work (Station 12) that staffers will give incorrect information. The union 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-AFTRA, 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-AFTRA member on their resume?

SAG-AFTRA says NO.  This has yet to be decided in court, but it probably will be eventually. 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-AFTRA”, which is a benefit of membership. It is a trademark violation, and SAG-AFTRA 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-AFTRA’s term of “fees”) to the union and you are a member of their bargaining unit. Semantics.

SAG-AFTRA 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-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.

Signed,

ABC Actor

Address

*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-AFTRA have any direct info about financial core?

Yes. There are two ways to get information directly from SAG-AFTRA. We highly recommend you contact them before making any decisions about your membership status. They actually want to talk to you!

  1. Your first contact with SAG-AFTRA regarding financial core would likely be the Eligibility Letter a person is supposed to receive when they become SAG-AFTRA 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 the union, 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-AFTRA has a section about financial core on their website here: https://www.sagaftra.org/financial-core
  2. You may call your “local”, or geographical office of SAG-AFTRA and talk to a membership staff person.  You can find a list of locals and their contact information HERE.

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-AFTRA 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.