By Mel MacKaron
Hey all, I have a great idea! I haven’t gotten a lot of work lately, but I’ve gotten some offers from some non-union projects. I think — as, apparently many others have — that I’ll go for it. After all, who am I hurting? And I could use an extra $50 or $100. Yeah, I know that when I joined SAG-AFTRA, I agreed to abide by Global Rule One, but what’s the big deal? And what’s the chance I’ll get caught?
Alright. Now that I have your attention, let me come back from fantasy world to reality land:
1. You’re hurting everyone — all your SAG-AFTRA brothers and sisters, present and past. This includes those people who formed the union in the first place, many of whom lost lucrative careers because they were willing to sacrifice for the greater good. They gave up a lot so that all of us — this includes you — would get (to name a few):
• Better pay;
• Health care;
• Safety on the set (i.e., better work conditions); and
2. There’s something in this world called integrity. Taking this verbatim from the SAG-AFTRA website, “Global Rule One states: No member shall render any services or make an agreement to perform services for any employer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the union, which is in full force and effect, in any jurisdiction in which there is a SAG-AFTRA national collective bargaining agreement in place. This provision applies worldwide. Simply put, a SAG-AFTRA member must always work under a union contract around the globe.”
Your sense of integrity should guide you faithfully to live up to this agreement. It is the foundation that makes the union strong, which insures we will continue to improve the lives and livelihoods of our members. Every person who goes “off card” undermines the welfare of all the other members of SAG-AFTRA. It’s selfish and it’s wrong. It defies a basic precept of America when, in 1776, Benjamin Franklin eloquently said, “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
3. The producers are your employers, not your friends. If they can get you on the cheap, they will. And without the protections of union contracts, you will not get residuals; you will not be guaranteed overtime; you will not earn contributions to your pension and health benefits. As our national executive director, David White, often says, “We want the industry to know that we (SAG-AFTRA) are easy to work with, but hard to fight.” Go non-union and you lose those protections.
4. Global Rule One means just that. Your agreement with the union applies to any work you do worldwide. The only exceptions are in jurisdictions where we do not have a national collective bargaining agreement (unless there is an active organizing effort underway). If you’re ever unclear as to whether a job is covered or not, call the union for clarification.
5. Finally, and this is where I always feel like Jacob Marley shaking his chains at Ebenezer Scrooge, let’s get to the repercussions of violating Rule One. If — no, when — you are caught, you will face disciplinary actions. As the SAG-AFTRA website states, this action ranges “from reprimands to fines to expulsion (my emphasis).” That’s right. You can lose your membership in this union.
In other words, if you decide — selfishly — to go off card, you will get exactly what you wanted — and deserve: the right to do as much non-union work for chump change as you can. Does it still sound like a nifty idea?
I’m going to close this article (some of you might call it a screed or a tirade) by reminding all of the “faithful” that it is in your best interest to keep your eyes open. If you know SAG-AFTRA members who are working off card, it is your duty to report them. You may think it’s not important, but it is. With a little effort, they might have turned the job to union. And every instance of Rule One violations undermines the rest of us. So anyone who violates their agreement with the union is not your friend. They are harming you — and me — and all other SAG-AFTRA members. The information you provide will be anonymous. No one will know who brought the violator to justice. And once all wayward persons are put on notice that we — you and I — take Rule One seriously, you will never have to hear another word from me on the subject. That in itself should make your honesty, integrity and enforcement worthwhile.
In solidarity, I hope you’re all getting good union work and that I’ll see you on the set.
Reprinted with permission from the New Mexico Local newsletter, summer 2016