Do I have to join SAG-AFTRA if I am in a Right to Work State?
For actors who come to LA for pilot season, Right to Work (RtW) is a tricky issue. In RtW states, most actors don't join the SAG because there simply isn’t enough Union work and they don’t have to. When they come here for pilot season however, they are subject to California law (a Union Security state). Actors in this situation ought to carefully consider their Union membership status. If you join SAG-AFTRA, and go back home to Texas, Florida or another RtW state, you can never again do non-union work, even back home. You must follow SAG-AFTRA’s Global Rule One. But if you are Core, you can go back home and continue to work non-Union jobs.
Do I have to join SAG-AFTRA first in order to go Fi-Core?
You can declare your Core status from Day One. If you are a “must join” or SAG eligible actor, simply declare Fi-Core instead of joining as a full member when you pay your initiation fee.
What about Honorable Withdrawal?
If you decide to take time off from film and TV acting (e.g. to finish school), cannot afford your dues, or want to leave the acting world altogether, you can take an Honorable Withdrawal (HW) from the Union. This suspends your SAG-AFTRA membership indefinitely. If you want to return to the Union later, they are happy to have you back with no fees, no fines and no hassle. However, you cannot take HW with the intention of going into non-Union work and then returning to the Union. If they find out you've been acting in non-Union roles while on HW, they may decide not to allow you back in the union at all.
If I go Fi-Core, will I be able to return to full-member status later, or is it permanent?
SAG-AFTRA advises actors that they will consider your decision to turn Fi-Core as a permanent one. As a matter of fact, for the majority of Core recruits, it turns out that way. Most actors who take the option do so only as a temporary measure, with every intention of going back to full-member status as soon as they have padded their resume and reel with enough credits to begin attracting big-time agents and Union gigs. For most, however, that never happens, either because the Union jobs do not materialize, or simply because the actor wants to keep his/her options open, even if they start getting a decent amount of SAG work.
However, just because they consider your decision to be permanent, doesn’t mean they haven’t left the door open for you to come back in. They do offer a “path [back] to citizenship” which includes a hearing that may require you to show up in person at a local SAG-AFTRA office and a fine which may be a couple hundred, or a couple thousand dollars. The reason I can’t be specific is because it is taken on a case-by-case basis. For actors who have done well for themselves on Fi-Core, the Union might decide to look into all the work they’ve done and require pay stubs from those jobs and impose fines equivalent to the increased dues they would have paid to the Union had they earned that money on SAG contracts (plus a hefty re-instatement fee). Or, for actors who’ve only scored a few obscure, low-paying gigs and then want to go back to full status, they may only impose a nominal reinstatement fee. But for most actors seeking to come back to the fold, my understanding from websites and blogs that cover this subject, is they normally set the re-entry hurdles pretty low because, obviously, they want working actors back in the Union. However, I have read on one or two websites (published several years ago) that getting back into SAG’s good graces can be an expensive gauntlet run. Yet, I don’t see how that would be the norm. It makes more sense for the Guild to welcome Core actors back with open arms after a relative slap on the wrist, because, once you come back, they’ve got you for life.
If I return to full status can I go back on Fi-Core again if it doesn’t work out?
If you re-join the Union after two or three years (or two or three days) on Fi-Core, you’ve permanently burned that bridge. So you must be certain you want to give up the right to do non-Union jobs before making the decision to go back. This is a good reason why SAG considers it a permanent decision. They know most actors will want to keep their options open, in case things in their careers go south again later. I have heard some unions will allow a worker to take Fi-Core status multiple times, but the Federal statute only requires unions to offer the option once.
If I'm Fi-Core, how do I go about getting back to full-member status?
We established that it is possible to return to full member status. It will merely take a phone call to SAG-AFTRA. They will put you through to the right people and they will explain what you must do, as well as what you must pay, to get back in. The only way to know for sure what your individual penalty might be is to call the Union. It might be wise to come with your hat in your hand and a sincere apology.
Richard on IMDb