Why Union Members Can Audition For Non-Union Work

Hey there!

A proud union member for nearly 30 years, it pains me to hear the misinformation from both union and non-union talent about how both camps operate.

One thing I keep hearing from people is that if you’re in the union, you can’t audition for non-union work.

You can.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re a union dude/dudette, and you’re thinking to yourself, “Not me. Not if I want to stay straight with SAG-AFTRA.”

Actually, you are being just a bit too hard on yourself.

Hope this helps!


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Raw YouTube Captioning

hey there it’s David H Lawrence the 17th
proud union member both after a sag and
sag AFTRA proud to have been on the side
of joining the unions together back in
2008 through 2012 and you know there are
people that as human beings if we don’t
know the answer to something it’s easier
to make stuff up than it is sometimes to
go research it to see what the right
answer is and I’m afraid that sometimes
union members are so frightened by that
initial inculcation into the union and
global rule one that they extend the
rule global rule one which says you
can’t participate in a production that
isn’t under a SAG after contract if that
production is subject to a SAG after
contract once you’re in the union and
some people unfortunately extend that to
auditions and that’s a mistake so I
heard a union members say the other day
at the hall at the Union Building oh
yeah it was a non-union job I I’m not
allowed to audition for that
and I kept listening and I kept thinking
about what possibly could have been
prompting this because the truth of the
matter is you can audition for anything
you want whether it’s union or non-union
now yes you can’t participate in it if
it’s a project that’s covered by a union
contract but there are plenty of
projects that aren’t covered by a union
contract blanket contract or a contract
that requires union participation so for
example as a union member if I wanted to
do non-union audiobooks I’m perfectly
capable of doing it and the union has
nothing that they want me to do
otherwise because they either have
created a contract with the publisher or
they haven’t yet once they do then you
want to make sure that you choose to do
a union contract but there are lots of
non residual based projects that you
certainly can do but more importantly
even the projects that are residual
based commercials and an animation and
games and stuff you can audition for
those if you get them you have to
convince the producer to go union for
you to be in it and in some cases that’s
exactly what the union wants you to do
they want you to say oh yeah I want to
be in that commercial but you got to go
Union if you want me because then the
Union can turn around and try and
organize that production to be under a
union contract but the idea that if
you’re a union member you’re not allowed
to audition for non-union stuff that’s
just not right just so you know now I
know that if you’re a good union person
you’re probably sitting there going no
no I’m gonna stay I’m just not gonna I’m
not gonna even deal with it I’m just
gonna stay on the side of auditioning
for a union project that’s fine but just
don’t think to yourself oh yeah I can’t
I’m not allowed
because that’s not true so just wanted
to share that with you quick and dirty I
just want to make sure you understand
that and if you’re thinking of becoming
a union member just something for you to
know ahead of time so you can’t work on
a non-union project that’s covered by a
blanket contract once you’re in the
Union but you could audition for either
union or non-union work and if you get
it you want to try and convince the
production to go union it’s awesome tell
me what your thoughts are on this are
you a proud union member and is this
news to you are you a proud non-union
person and this is news to you as well
are you trying to get in the Union you
didn’t know this let me know in the
comments below there’s a box filled with
comments I mean time to participate
especially if you’re on my website as
opposed to being on YouTube and watching
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watching and I will talk to you tomorrow.

9 Responses to Why Union Members Can Audition For Non-Union Work

  1. Kimberly Geter August 3, 2019 at 9:21 pm #

    Hey David, my question which I may not understand correctly is that if the producer states non-union in the specs and a union member gets the role, wouldn’t that upset the producers by trying to convince them to go union when it specifically stated non-union in the original specs? I would think that the union member wasted their time. I’m thinking about commercials sent by the agents, not audiobooks nor narration. Post your thoughts please. Kim

    • David H. Lawrence XVII August 3, 2019 at 9:37 pm #

      Commercials are not usually a type of VO that you’re able to do this with, as they are residual based. But even then, if a producer wants a particular talent bad enough, and that talent has told them they are union, they might consider going union with project after all. That’s what the union hopes for!

  2. Kimberly Geter August 4, 2019 at 7:12 am #

    Would you give an approximate percentage or count of how many commercial VO non-union auditions that you personally was able to convert to union from your agents? Also, how do you apply this technique with your own agents?

    I would want to check if it’s a waste of time, am I alienating the client, or they just don’t care and go for it? Just send to the agent that you’re a union talent if the agency agrees to send in the non-union audition since they sent it to you in the first place since the talent fits the specs.

    Obviously, if the potential client doesn’t budge, I feel that as a union talent, I’m a rock in a hard place and that’s a tough situation to be as a talent to turn down money. I absolutely think that talent should already be in a position to turn down money if this is a technique to consider using. I’m at the point that I have more than one business and may consider this technique if it’s worth my time. Kim

    • David H. Lawrence XVII August 4, 2019 at 12:29 pm #

      Again… Commercials are not usually a type of VO that you’re able to do this with, as they are residual based. I’ve never converted any. I don’t try. I do it with IVR, I do it with store announcements, and other CO-ED work.

  3. Chris Buckner August 4, 2019 at 7:20 am #

    Good to know. Union stuff still confuses me, even after talking with more than one person at the union. OK30 Status, must join status, union dues, all that sort of thing. I just got a background extra part and had to tell the casting director over and over to not pay me union scale because I’d have to join the union if she did. And when I look at the pay for one day of background extra work vs the cost to join the union, I’m like, “Please pay me nonunion!” Thanks for the video David.

    • Mike Russo August 4, 2019 at 11:20 am #

      Chris, if memory serves, there is a payment plan available to take care of your Union dues if that’s the way you want to go. You don’t say what your local would be (I’m with the Philly local and I also work in NY and Jersey), but I’d give them a call and get the straight scoop on payment plans.

  4. Ian Coleman August 4, 2019 at 6:53 pm #

    Hi David,

    Thank you for this one. It greatly clarifies some things for me. I had thought about the idea of convincing productions to go union for when I do join the union though I hadn’t thought it through as clearly as you stated here. I have run into quite a lot of union actors at non-union commercial auditions and was even at a callback a while ago where it was just myself and a union actor and I didn’t get it. I was starting to think that there are a lot of union actors working off the card (which is also quite possible) but now I’m thinking it is also possible that they may be convincing the productions to go union if they want them. Gives me some great food for thought to not write off all those auditions when I do join the union.



  5. Ed August 5, 2019 at 9:09 am #

    David, I have been a union member almost all my working life. Even in non-union shops I joined employee bargaining groups. I first became a union member right out of high school in the trade unions. I joined the Newspaper guild in Detroit, just before the largest strike in its history.

    I find SAG-AFTRA to be obtuse, obscure, arcane and member unfriendly. It is also prohibitively expensive and because of its limited outreach appears elitist. From what I’ve seen from the outside of its internal stratification it also appears cliquish.

    Of course at my age, the union offers small inducement and my union activism has waned, so most of this is moot.


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