The entertainment industry is unique in a lot of ways, and it can be intimidating for newcomers to navigate. But as soon as you bring labor unions into the picture, things start to look better.

What are Labor Unions?

Labor unions are organizations that represent workers in a particular industry or field. Their purpose is to empower the working class and ensure that they are treated with dignity and do not get robbed of rights/benefits by their employers.

The National Labor Relations Act guarantees that “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection…”

Film industry unions often focus on particular types of workers, such as actors, producers, writers, directors, and technical workers.

According to the U.S Department of Labor, union members enjoy the following benefits:

  • Non-union workers had median weekly earnings that were 84 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($958 versus $1,144).
  • 92 percent of union workers have job-related health coverage, whereas only 68 percent of non-union workers do.

Apart from these benefits, film unions also represent their members in negotiating better working conditions and royalty payments.

Now, let’s talk about the different unions for above-the-line and below-the-line workers.

They each have their own criteria for joining and generally charge membership fees.

Keep reading to learn more.

Above the line

1. Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television-Radio (SAG-AFTRA)

Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA

Founded: 2012

SAG-AFTRA brings together two labor unions: Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio.

Overall, it represents around 160,000 media artists including actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists, and more.

Membership benefits

 

  • Contracts/collective bargaining
  • SAG-AFTRA Health Plan
  • SAG-Producers Pension Plan
  • AFTRA Retirement Fund
  • Access to the actor online casting database
  • Deals and discounts at national chains and businesses for career progression

 

How to join

According to the official website, you’re eligible to join if you meet at least one of the following conditions:

  • Have proof of SAG-AFTRA, SAG, or AFTRA covered employment as a principal performer or recording artist;
  • Have proof of three days of SAG-AFTRA, SAG, or AFTRA employment as a background actor
  • Proof of employment under an affiliated performers’ union.

2. Actors’ Equity Association

Headquarters: New York, NY

Founded: 1913

The Equity represents over 51,000 actors and stage managers across the USA. The union is a member of the AFL-CIO and is affiliated with FIA, an international organization of performing arts unions.

Membership benefits

  • Contract, and wage negotiations.
  • Health insurance.
  • 401(k)
  • Supplemental workers’ comp insurance.
  • Contract negotiation and administration.
  • Negotiations for vacation and sick pay.
  • Job access.
  • Member discounts.
  • Tax assistance through VTA.
  • Access to Actors Federal Credit Union.

How to join

You may apply for membership by any one of the following three methods:

  • Equity Contract If you are employed under an Equity contract, you can join the Association. Applications are only valid during the term of the contract.
  • An existing member of one of the following sister unions for a duration of one year at least: SAG-AFTRA, AGMA, AGVA, or GIAA.
  • Equity Membership Candidate (EMC) Program. Read the full requirements here.

3. Writers Guild of America West (WGAW)

Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA

Founded: 1954

WGAW represents thousands of writers who write for TV shows, movies, documentaries, news, and new media. The union is affiliated with the Writers Guild of America East and other organizations around the world.

The WGAW helps writers protect their intellectual property and registers more than 50,000 pieces of literary material each year.

Membership benefits

  • Pension plan.
  • Health coverage.
  • Protection of financial and creative rights.
  • Determine writing credits for feature films, television, and digital media programs.
  • Monitors collects and distributes residuals.
  • Organizes seminars, panel discussions, and special events.
  • Takes care of legislation, international agreements, and PR.

How to join

The Writers Guild of America West works on a unit system that’s based on writing employment/sales within the Guild’s jurisdiction and with a company that’s signed a collective bargaining agreement with WGAW.

As a writer, you may be eligible for either Current (full) membership or Associate (partial) membership.

For more information about membership plans and units, click here.

4. Directors Guild of America (DGA)

Headquarters: Los Angeles, California

Founded: 1936

The DGA represents directors working in film, TV, commercials, news, sports, documentaries, and new media. It secures members’ creative and economic rights.

Membership benefits

  • The Guild negotiates collective bargaining agreements.
  • Negotiates minimum compensation, benefits, working conditions. 
  • Guarantees the director’s right to be actively involved in all aspects of filmmaking.
  • Offers pension and health plans. 
  • DGA contracts secure payment of residuals.
  • Negotiates contracts that guarantee creative rights.
  • Offers dispute resolution.
  • If necessary, the Guild may go to court to enforce an arbitrator’s award.
  • Access to seminars, workshops, cultural events that offer opportunities to network and grow.
  • Free access to certain public screenings in commercial theatres.

How to join

As a director, you can join under the following circumstances

  • A signatory company has hired you to direct a project.
  • Develop a feature-length project and make your company signatory. Directors who have received critical acclaim for their work may be invited to join. For more information, click here.

5. Association of Talent Agents (ATA)

Headquarters: Los Angeles, California

Founded: 1937

The Association of Talent Agents (ATA) is the official trade association of talent agencies across the USA. It is not a talent agency and doesn’t give referrals to artists.

The organization advocates legislations and negotiates franchise agreements with major entertainment guilds, such as SAG-AFTRA, WGA, DGA, and AEA.

ATA has over 100 member companies that represent a majority of the professional artists in the entertainment industry.

Membership benefits

  • Negotiation of franchise agreements with industry guilds.
  • Interpretation of agency/guild and state regulations.
  • Access to professional development resources and seminars.
  • Dispute resolution expertise.
  • Residual tracking system.

How to join

To apply for membership, download and complete the ATA membership form (linked below). Your application must include the following documents:

  • A copy of the license issued by the appropriate state or city agency in each location the agency has a place of business. Include proof of bond.
  • Resume or bio of every agency owner, executive, or financially interested party.
  • Include two recommendation letters from an owner or executive officer of two distinct ATA member companies.
  • Copy of franchise certificate or other documentation of current guild/union talent agency.
  • Proof of an established client trust account and general operating account.
  • A copy of the form agency contract(s) in use by your agency with artists.
  • Application fee of $1,000 (payable by check). If your membership is rejected, your check will be returned.
  • Processing fee of $250 (payable by separate check). This amount is non-refundable.
  • Your application will then be reviewed and you will be contacted for an interview. For details, visit this page.

6. Producers Guild of America (PGA)

Headquarters: Los Angeles, California

Founded: 1950

The Producers Guild of America is a non-profit with over 5,000 members that are part of producing teams in film, TV, and new media.

Collectively, members work toward improving their careers and act as advocates for the community at large by encouraging enforcement of fair workplace labor laws. PGA also supports the creation of impartial standards for the awarding of producing credits.

Membership benefits

  • Access to mentoring programs.
  • Job bulletins with updates that match your skill and background.
  • Access to PGA’s member directory. A great resource to find crew and collaborators.
  • Access to screeners during awards season.
  • Voting privileges in the Producers Guild Awards.
  • Discounts on services and events.
  • Invitations to pre-release screenings and Q&As.
  • Free access to several events.
  • Complimentary subscription to Produced By magazine.

How to join

PGA Membership is based on years in the industry and Guild-recognized qualifying credits. According to the website, you’ll need at least one of the following to be eligible to join:

  • Enough qualifying producing credits within the last 7 years for feature films.
  • Enough qualifying producing credits within the last 5 years for other formats.
  • Have acquired the PGA Producers Mark (“p.g.a”) on 2 or more feature films with qualifying distribution (automatic qualification).
  • Producer nominee for the Oscars and Producers Guild Awards and apply within 2 years of your nomination (automatic qualification).

For more information, click here.

7. Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP)

Headquarters: Los Angeles, CA

Founded: 1982

The AMPTP is a trade organization and since 1982 it has negotiated Industry-wide collective bargaining agreements and contracts on behalf of over 350 movie and TV producers.

Its member companies include major motion picture studios (including Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. Pictures, Sony Entertainment, Paramount), broadcast television networks, other TV production companies, cable networks, and independent producers.

Please note: AMPTP’s website does not offer any guidelines on how to join. If you’d like more information, please contact them.

8. American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP)

Headquarters: New York, NY

Founded: 1914

ASCAP has over 435,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers. The organization is also well-connected globally via affiliates and international societies and represents music creators worldwide.

Membership benefits

ASCAP protects member rights by licensing and distributing royalties for the non-dramatic public performances of their copyrighted works.

Intellectual property rights can be difficult to navigate. ASCAP makes it easier for creators and users to give/obtain permission to perform music.

How to join

Take a look at the membership options available and sign up for what suits you most

9. Association of Independent Commercial Producers (AICP)

National offices: New York, Los Angeles

Founded: 1972

The Association of Independent Commercial Producers AICP has regional chapters across the country and collectively represents independent companies and suppliers that specialize in production and post-production of films, TV programs, commercials, videos, and various new media.

The organization’s members account for 85% of all domestic commercials that air nationwide and across other media platforms.

AICP strives to develop and improve industry standards and tools and supports its member’s professional development.

Membership benefits

  • Access to industry-relevant information.
  • Representation within the advertising community and business circles.
  • Legislative advocacy.
  • Access to events, forums, and award shows that support professional development.

How to join

To better serve the interests of the commercial production industry, AICP offers different types of memberships. Take a quick look below:

  • General Membership is open to corporations regularly involved in physical or digital production of commercials.
  • Associate Membership is open to a person or company that provides services or supplies to the commercial production industry.
  • Honorary Press Membership requires no fees and is available for industry press organizations. The membership allows industry press organizations to use AICP/Member logo where appropriate and sends communication material.

10. Association of Music Producers (AMP)

Headquarters: New York, NY

Founded: 1997

AMP is an AICP affiliate trade organization that represents companies and individual composers who provide music and sound for branded entertainment.

The organization lobbies for higher ad royalty payments from ASCAP and advocates for excellence in the industry.

Membership benefits

  • Education about Errors and Omissions insurance and performing rights
  • Access to networking events
  • Involvement in legislation that affects the organization, its members, and the world of advertising music and sound at large.

How to join

To join, visit the website, fill out the application form and pay the fee for your relevant membership plan.

AMP offers different types of membership:

  • General Membership is open to companies in the business of creating music or sound for ads, TV, films, trailers, new media.
  • Associate Membership is open to companies that provide services to the commercial and entertainment music/sound industry.
  • Individual Membership is available for freelance music supervisors, composers, sound designers.
  • Student Memberships are also available for enrolled students with a school ID.

Below the Line

11. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)

Office location: New York, NY.

Founded: 1893

IATSE represents stage employees and technicians in the entertainment industry across America and Canada. Its members support each other and work toward improving working conditions in the industry.

The union has evolved and adapted technological innovation over its hundred-plus years of operation.

IATSE has several local chapters that cover production crafts people, such as art directors, costume designers, wardrobe attendants, make-up artists, hairstylists, studio lighting technicians, script supervisors, set painters, animators, and more.

Membership benefits

  • Negotiates contracts that spell out your working conditions, wages, and rights.
  • Ensures job security and a safe work environment.
  • Gives access to training programs/seminars so you can upgrade your skills.
  • Ensures that members receive adequate health insurance and retirement benefits from their employers.

How to join

Look up your local union in the directory and look up the website for more information on how to join.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at a few relevant IATSE local organizations.

12. International Cinematographers Guild – Local 600

National office: Los Angeles, CA

Founded: 1996

IATSE Local 600 represents camera professionals and publicists in the entertainment business.

Membership benefits

  • Medical coverage and retirement programs.
  • Premium pay for overtime.
  • Travel, housing for location shoots.
  • Contract ensures on the job safety.
  • Legal representation.
  • Contract negotiations.
  • Professional development opportunities.
  • Scholarships.
  • Networking events.
  • Scholarships.
  • Job listing discount.

How to join

  • Read the membership booklet
  • Pick your region (Western, Easters, Central).
  • Contact the local office or email your resume to the designated person.
  • For more information and contact details, etc. visit this page.

13. Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG) – Local 700

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Founded: 1937

MPEG currently represents over 7,200 post-production professionals. The organization ensures that its members experience professionalism as they navigate through the entertainment industry.

Membership benefits

  • The Guild negotiates union contracts and enforces existing agreements with employers to secure the interest of members.
  • Ensures better working conditions and wages.
  • Assists in handling artistic concerns, such as the assignment of credit.
  • Health and welfare programs.
  • IATSE National Benefit Funds.
  • Training courses.
  • Industry magazine.
  • Post-production practice facilities.
  • Access to Guild’s database of member resumes.
  • Opportunity to join events and mixers.
  • Invitation to private screenings of current movies.
  • Eligibility to join First Entertainment Credit Union.
  • Union Plus.

How to join

  • Get on the industry experience roster.
  • Visit the website and click on the Join tab.
  • Select East Coast or West Coast.
  • Choose your classification and read the details.
  • Submit the required paperwork.
  • Attend the orientation meeting.
  • Pay the initiation and processing fees.

For more information on how to join, check out this page.

14. Animation Guild – Local 839

Location: Burbank, CA

Founded: 1952

The Animation Guild represents animation artists, writers, and technicians. The organization and its parent union, IATSE, negotiate collective bargaining agreements for its members.

Membership benefits:

  • Animation Guild 401(k) Plan.
  • Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans.
  • Motion Picture and Television Fund.
  • The Actor’s Fund of America.
  • SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union.
  • Union Plus.

How to join

If you land a job with a signatory company under the Guild’s jurisdiction, the employer notifies the Guild office. After that, you will get your membership package. A one-time registration fee is required.

If you’ve been working at a signatory for more than thirty days and haven’t heard from the Guild, you can contact them. For more information, visit this page.

15. Motion Picture Sound Editors (MPSE)

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Founded: 1953

MPSE represents sound editing professionals including dialogue ADR, foley artists, and more. The organization improves industry standards for workers and gives newcomers the opportunity to learn and improve their skills through professional development opportunities.

Membership benefits

  • Negotiates collective bargaining agreements.
  • Networking opportunities.
  • Invitations to screenings.
  • Exclusive access to educational resources.
  • Discounts on tickets at select theatres.
  • Discounts and promotions.

How to join

The MPSE offers four levels of membership:

  • New Active Member: It is open to sound editors or sound designers with three years of experience.
  • New International Affiliate Member: It is suitable for people who have experience in sound or music editing, but don’t have experience working as an editor. This membership does not come with voting rights.
  • New international Member: To qualify, you must have three years of experience as a sound editor or sound designer.
  • New US Affiliate Member: To qualify, you must have experience in the motion picture, television, and gaming industry with an emphasis on sound or music editing and administration or management of sound editors.
  • Student Membership: It is available if you’re enrolled in an accredited school in the appropriate studies of entertainment media (film, gaming, animation, etc.)

To join, select the right membership plan for you and complete the application process. Each plan has a fee structure. For more information, visit this page.

To check out more IATSE Locals, browse the directory.

16. Teamsters Union 399

Location: Los Angeles, California

Founded: 1928

Teamsters Local 399 represents workers in the motion picture industry along with companies that produce feature films, TV programs, commercials, and new media content.

Membership benefits

Negotiate collective bargaining agreements and contracts that secure wages, fair working conditions, health insurance, retirement, etc.

How to join

Contact them and talk to a representative to learn more about membership and the fees involved (the Teamster dues rate is 2.5 times our base hourly rate per month).

Above the Line and Below the Line

17. American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA)

Headquarters: New York, NY

Founded: 1936

AGMA is a non-profit national union without a system of local chapters. The organization does have a level of area administration, and collectively it represents a majority of America’s musical talent. Members include musicians, soloists, choral singers, actors, dancers, and production staff, and more.

Member benefits

  • AGMA negotiates collective bargaining agreements.
  • Guaranteed wages, regulated working hours, overtime pay, vacation time, and sick leaves.
  • Dispute resolution.
  • Protection from unfair treatment, discrimination, and abuse.

How to join

  • Call AGMA’s Membership Department at (212) 265-3687 or (800) 543-2462, or complete the application here.
  • For applicants, there is an initiation fee of $1,000 and an annual fee (basic dues) of $100.

For more information, visit this page.

18. The American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA)

Location: New York, NY

Founded: 1939

AGVA is a member of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4As) and is affiliated with AFL-CIO. The organization represents performing artists in the variety area along with stage managers nationwide.

Artists in the variety area include performers in revues, touring shows

(non-book shows), theme parks, circus, cabarets. It also covers comedians, stand-up comics, skaters, club artists, poets, monologists, spokespersons, and a range of performers who work at private parties and special events

Membership benefits

  • Negotiates collective bargaining agreements for wage guarantees, health benefits, general work rules, and more.
  • Ensures working conditions are on par with industry standards.
  • Offers medical, dental, and optical coverage.
  • Ensures every artist’s salary by requiring producers to post a salary bond through AGVA’s bonding secretary before beginning rehearsals.
  • AGVA’s Benefits Plan.
  • After a one-year membership with AGVA, you may join a sister union (AEA, AGMA, or SAG-AFTRA).
  • AGVA artists who perform outside of the union’s jurisdiction have their working conditions dictated by the collective bargaining agreements of AGVA’s sister unions.
  • To assist members under financial distress, AGVA offers a Margie Coate Sick & Relief Fund.

How to join

  • You are eligible to join AGVA if you’ve been offered an AGVA contract. After that, you will have to submit an application form. For further information contact the Membership Department at 212-675-1003 ext. 104 or send an email at Trivera@agvausa.org.
  • If you are an independent variety artist without a contract who self-produces shows, you may still join. Contact the Membership Department for an application and submit relevant documents to support your case.

For more information, visit this page.

That wraps up our list of prominent labor organizations that are working to empower workers in the USA.

For more information about navigating the entertainment industry, check out more of our blogs.