Most entertainment professionals strongly recommend joining the union once an individual looks upon himself or herself qualified professional talent. The protections and income potential far exceed the alternative, particularly if work s sought in the major production centers of Los Angeles or New York City. Since there is no “must join” provision in Nevada, the choice to join a union is a very individual one based individual background, interest and potential.
The negative to joining the union in Nevada is simply this. There is no “must join” provision in Right-to-Work states. Nevada is a Right-to-Work state where access to union jobs cannot be restricted to union members. An actor can work union and non-union work in Nevada, gaining the pay and benefits of the union work when working union and the frequency of employment when working non-union. By joining a union you are limiting your ability to accept work offered to you. Once you enter into a legal agreement with a union by joining, you are closing the door on any and all non-union work.
Many acting coaches advise actors to do work under the right-to-work protection to gain a “tape” or “reel” of their work, needed to market yourself properly as a professional. This should be considered on a case by case basis, because there is value to developing a reel of your profesisonal work (do not include background work or poorly done recordings of stage or showcase work) to use in generating future work, if it truly showcases your talent. The danger lies in being known as a “SAG eligible” or “SAG-e” actor. Quite honestly, most industry professionals will look upon you, as less than a qualified professional performer, since if you are eligible, the industry standard and expectation are that you will joint he union as soon as possible, and step up the next level of your career.
The disadvantage to doing non-union work lies in exposure and in how much you value your time and talents. Nonunion commercials may run as often, for as long, and in as many markets as the producer wants without paying talent an additional penny. Those same commercials can be turned into print adds, billboards, reedited into other commercials, the audio put on the radio not just in Nevada but anywhere else in the country of world the client wishes without paying you, the actor, an additional cent. When “Excalibur” opened on the Las Vegas Strip, the initial Hollywood quality film commercials that were shot non-union ran for almost a decade. The actors in the commercials found that other employers, particularly union producers, would not employ them. In fact there is a legal liability if you do accept work in a competing commercial, simply put the producers can sue you for breach of contract. And it gets worse, because a commercial for a Hotel-Casino will put an actor into potential conflict on all hotel, hospitality, theme entertainment, gambling, food and beverage (restaurant) and along list of other product categories. In other words you have put yourself at risk for future work in a wide range of areas by doing one nonunion commercial. And then there is the issue of not being guaranteed swept payment or damages that you would under a union contract.
The advantage to joining the unions lies in wages, working condition protections, future residual or use fee income, the potential of qualifying for excellent health plans and retirement and that to many producers and directors being union means you have chosen to look upon yourself as a professional and respect your own talent and its value. As with many things you would put on a professional resume in your primary profession, prior profession or day-job, a membership in SAG is one vital way of getting past those who screen resumes and photos by the thousands. Often non-union talent is summarily discarded long before the audition process begins.
When you do union work without joining your are robbing union members of work and weakening both the union and the unions pension and health plans. The union must take care of you and the plans must administer the cost or the plan. That means you are getting services for free, or more realistically, at the direct expense of union members who pay dues and are dependant on work as union talent.