Written By Meaghan Beese------
Did you know that when you join an actors’ union, you’re agreeing to no longer accept non-union work in another sister union’s jurisdiction?
In SAG-AFTRA, this is known as Rule 9.
I’m a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, but I’ll admit that I am guilty of submitting myself for non-union theatre projects due to a lack of education and clarity about my obligation to sister unions.
So what the heck is this rule anyway?
Actors’ Equity addresses it on their Do Not Work webpage:
Within the broader labor movement, we share a special bond with AGMA, AGVA, GIAA and SAG-AFTRA. Together, we are collectively known as the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (aka the 4A’s). We recognize each other’s efforts to organize and negotiate fair and equitable contracts across the entertainment industry and stand in solidarity with one another. Members of our sister unions in the 4A’s are prohibited from accepting theatrical employment without an Equity contract, and we have a reciprocal arrangement that also prohibits Equity members from working in the areas covered by other 4A’s unions without the appropriate union contract.
According to SAG-AFTRA’s website, Rule 9 states:
"It shall be conduct considered an action antagonistic to the interests and integrity of the Union for a member of the Union to accept employment in the jurisdiction of any other branch of the 4A's for an employer whose employees are represented by the other branch, unless the member seeking such employment first inquires of the other branch to ascertain whether the employer is a signatory to a collective bargaining agreement with the other branch. It shall be conduct considered an action antagonistic to the interest and integrity of the Union if the member of the Union accepts employment with an employer in the jurisdiction of another branch after having been advised by the other branch that: ...".
Members who are found in violation of Global Rule One or Rule 9 are subject to serious fines and discipline by a panel of union peers.”
I was initially under the impression that as a SAG-AFTRA member, I was only being asked to avoid working on productions that appear on Equity’s Do Not Work List. I reached out to Actors’ Equity Association’s Membership Department for clarification on the rules. They said in no uncertain terms: “A union member cannot work non-Union. A member of SAG-AFTRA cannot accept a non-Equity contract without violating their membership…and an Equity member cannot work a non-Union film/tv job.”
I asked if 4A members qualify for the Special Appearance Agreement, which essentially grants a waiver for Equity members to accept work at non-union theaters on a case-by-case basis. I was told: “Guest Artist and Special Appearance contracts are only available to existing Equity Members, to allow them to work at a non-Equity theater, but still be covered by a Union contract. You would not qualify for those contract types unless you joined first to then get approval for those.”
The fact of the matter is that many performers have no idea that this rule exists, and therefore may not take it into consideration when making the personal decision of when to join a union.
For what it’s worth, I have never personally heard of this rule being enforced. It’s hard to imagine that the unions have the ability to cross-check all of their members in order to come after the lowest-earning population of actors. However, I feel it’s important to educate performers on exactly what they’re agreeing to when they make the decision to pursue union membership.