‘Not to beat a dead horse, but I just keep running across more great explanations of "Financial Core" status relating to unions or "guilds" for actors. These articles get a little pithy sometimes, but it’s valuable to understand this stuff, and it’s the reality of the legacy and history of our industry that we inherit.
By Amy Lynn Smith
Myth: If you’re a performer in a union town, you either have to join an
actors’ union, or stick to working strictly non-union jobs.
Fact: There is a third option called financial core status, which is
typically described as being a "dues paying non-member". It’s an
alternative to the difficult choice workers usually have to make
between individual freedom and job security.
The meaning of "financial core" refers to the requirements of workers
in unionized industry to pay their union dues. In 1963, the Supreme
Court ruled that if workers are compelled to join a union, they must
only pay the portion of their dues which covers the union’s cost of
collective bargaining- known as financial core dues.
Then, in 1988, the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Communications
Workers vs. Beck, that financial core does not include the obligation
to support union activities beyond those pertinent to collective
bargaining, contract administration and grievance adjustment.
So what does it mean when a union member declares "financial core"
status? Mark McIntire was the first performer to declare financial core
status in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) nationally. He also co-founded
the Financial Core Foundation, together with Charlton Heston, in an
effort to spread awareness about worker’s rights. "If we’re flying in a
plane and we don’t like the course the pilot has chosen," explains
McIntire, "the Supreme Court has said you can put on your golden
parachute called ‘financial core’ and jump out- without having any
adverse effects on your livelihood. You still have to pay for the
contract process- the fuel in the plane- but you don’t have to stay on
board if you don’t want to."
McIntire declared financial core status because he was opposed to how
SAG was spending his dues money. But he says, "The typical person who
declares financial core is a person competing for jobs in a marketplace
which is not thoroughly unionized."
A member who wishes to declare financial core status must do so in
writing. The union, by law, must accept this declaration. They must
then determine what percentage of dues cover collective bargaining, and
allow this now "dues paying non-member" to pay only the financial core
percentage of the union dues.
This is where it gets a bit confusing: Since financial core performers
are still paying for collective bargaining, they are still eligible to
work on union productions, and collect union scale for those jobs.
along with all the union benefits, such as health insurance. They are
not permitted to vote in union elections, hold union office, and they
do not receive "member-only" benefits such as newsletters.
When working under a union contract, these performers must adhere to the
rules of the contract as it pertains to an individual job. But because
these performers are not technically members of the union, they are not
bound to the rules of the union itself. That means that they are not
prosecutable, for example, under the SAG Rule #1 which forbids its
members to work for non-union signatories. Therefore, performers who
declare financial core status are eligible to work on both union and
"Actors have always been under the false impression that in order for
them to audition for a production, they must be unionized," explains
McIntire. "That is simply not true. You can’t discriminate against an
actor because they are not unionized. Performers declare financial core
because its a business decision. They want to work."
Over the years, the issue has also been clouded because SAG and AFTRA
generally led talent agents to believe that they would forfeit their
union franchises if they handled non-union work, which is not true.
Steve Stratton has been a professional announcer since 1978. As a
member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists
(AFTRA), he became disenchanted with many of the policies of his
Tri-State AFTRA Local, and last September, he declared financial core
status in AFTRA (although he remains a full member of SAG).
"My local wasn’t representing me at all," says Stratton. "They were
doing things that were keeping me from being able to make me a living.
Going financial core was an excruciating decision for me. I believe in
unions when they’re doing their job to take care of their members. It’s
no secret that every day, there are union performers who cheat the
rules. But I felt I made the more ethical choice, by being honest about
how I wanted to run my own business, and how I want to choose the jobs
I will or won’t take."
Stratton also points out that in the stronger traditional union
markets, such as Detroit, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, financial core
status may not be a necessary or a desirable choice.
Charlton Heston is a vocal supporter of workers’ rights to choose
financial core. "An increasing amount of work throughout the film
industry is done off-union. And that’s not going to change." he says.
"There is no reason that members, who have paid their dues, should not
be able to work in productions outside the union jurisdiction.
There are plenty of good reasons why performers choose financial core:
Greater job opportunities, in both union and non-union productions,
which means better income. The benefits of union membership, combined
with personal responsibility for their own careers.
Steve Stratton certainly recognizes the advantages of his financial
core status. But he also sees the potential down side. "The biggest
negative is that nobody knows what it is," says Stratton. "The
employers are confused by it, most members are surprised it’s even
possible. I used to worry that if a union signatory called the union,
they would say that I’m not a member- which technically, I am not. But
the union is required to tell union signatories that I am ‘eligible to
work under the contract.’
"My other big concern," continues Stratton, "is that financial core
members will charge greatly inflated – or even reduced – rates, and
erode the marketplace to the point that I can’t afford to work here. I
still charge union scale, or competitive rates, for my work. People
shouldn’t use financial core for their own personal profit. Everything
else is positive. My work is easier to do. I don’t have to charge extra
fees for things like talent payment services. I have greater
responsibility for my own business."
Although a large portion of the broadcast work in many Central Cities
markets remains union, a very sizeable segment of corporate production
is non-union. In a market where 60-75% of the work is corporate, this
comprises a serious achilles heel for union organizers.
And how do the unions feel about financial core? Many are evasive about
the topic. Others provide all the necessary information to their
members. Stratton’s AFTRA Local was given an opportunity to comment,
and did not respond. However, when another performer called her SAG
Local, the office clearly and objectively outlined the facts of
financial core membership for her.
"Performers have got to realize their rights," Heston explains. "That’s
what it comes to. No matter what their union tells them, there is no
question that members have the right to be financial core members. They
cannot be prevented from working." And financial core membership
doesn’t mean being anti-union. "Even for the financial core member, the
union still provides a valuable function." says Stratton. "They set a
standard for conducting business in our marketplace.
Talent agencies, casting directors and signatories must also be aware
of financial core performers. It is illegal to discriminate against a
financial core performer wishing to audition for a production.
These production entities should understand the law, and how it impacts
them. "When an agent or signatory is dealing with a financial core
person," Stratton explains, "They should respect that performer’s
position, and not try to treat them any differently than any other
professional. A financial core member is simply someone who has chosen
to run their own business and make their own decisions." ###