Maybe your agent mentioned it as a possibility. Maybe you heard it was a way to pay less dues. Maybe you’ve noticed the increase in non-union jobs out there. Maybe you’ve heard of some big name actors who are financial core such as Jon Voight.
Maybe you saw a notice like this one at the voiceover casting studios of Kalmenson and Kalmenson in Burbank:
“Things are changing. At this stage of the game, close to 50% of our casting is non-union. Are you keeping up with all your opportunities? If you are Financial Core Status with either or both unions (allowing you to work both union and non-union) please contact our office and let us know so we can consider you on casting projects accordingly.”
All this would pique anyone’s curiosity! It did ours, so we did the research for you and have attempted to whittle this very complicated and emotion-charged topic down to the facts. Our sources for this article are listed at the end so you can follow up on your own. Please note that while we mention SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) as the union many times in this article, the concepts would apply equally to Equity (AEA), or AGVA. We reference SAG-AFTRA because much of our information and research came directly from SAG. As always, we encourage you to read, do your own investigations, discuss it with your child, ask lots of questions, and attempt to make the best business decision for YOUR child, understanding that others may come to a different conclusion.
What is Financial Core?
Financial Core (Fi-core for short) is a right granted by the Supreme Court and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rulings that allow workers (not just actors) to NOT join the union, and still work union jobs.
Basically, you become a “fee paying non-member” in the eyes of the union and you are allowed to work both union and non-union jobs. You cannot be forced to join a union, but you must pay your fair share.
The History of Fi-core
This all came about as states industrialized and made their own laws about whether they were to be a union security state or a right-to-work state. Union Security states passed laws like the Taft-Hartley law, which require workers to join a labor union in order to continue work under a union contract. Right to Work states allowed unions to exist, but individuals cannot be required to pay anything to the union as a condition of employment and membership is completely voluntary. Today there are 28 Right to Work states, including entertainment heavy Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah, and Texas. California and New York are both union security states.
A problem arose within the union security states in the late 1950s. Unions had quickly become a very strong political force in this country, and they overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party (even today, they are major supporters and endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.
What about the members who did not want their “forced” dues money to be spent on political causes they did not believe in? They had to join the union in order to work. But that membership was essentially stepping on their constitutional freedom to vote. Enter Financial Core…a concept defined by a 1963 Supreme Court ruling called NLRB v. GENERAL MOTORS. This ruling says,
“The burdens of membership upon which employment may be conditioned are expressly limited to the payment of initiation fees and monthly dues. It is permissible to condition employment upon membership, but membership, insofar as it has significance to employment rights, may in turn be conditioned only upon payment of fees and dues. “Membership” as a condition of employment is whittled down to its financial core.”
In other words, the union can make you pay for the costs of union business, but they cannot require you to pay for political or ideological activities.
Another landmark Supreme Court case, COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA v. BECK (commonly called the Beck Decision, or Beck Rights), further solidified the definition of Fi-core and said that workers who declare financial core status only have to pay the fraction of the dues that is directly related to contract negotiation, enforcement, etc. In the Beck Decision, the court ruled that only 21% of Mr. Beck’s union dues were related to contract negotiation, so that is all he had to pay.
Historically, about 96% of SAG fees/dues were related to representational activities. That is the amount that “Fee Paying Non-Members” (FPNMs for short) would be paying to SAGAFTRA
Lastly, SAG and AFTRA themselves (these rulings were before the 2012 merger) have a few court rulings to their credit, BUCKLEY v. AFTRA, 419 U.S. 1093 (1974) where AFTRA violated the NRLA by “coercing” Buckley into becoming a full-fledged member, and the Supreme Court ruling of MARQUEZ v. SCREEN ACTORS GUILD, et al (1998) where the union was chastised for denying Ms. Marquez work because she had not paid SAG dues, but also not informing her of her right to Fi-core status.
Finally, on February 17, 2001, President George W. Bush signed an executive order that unions are obliged to inform all prospective members of their “financial core rights” or “Beck rights” before they join the union.