"Taft-Hartley" For Actors

In 1945 there was a 32 week strike that reshaped the movie industry and led (at least in part) to the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act

The Taft-Hartley Act was Federal legislation to restrict union power.

In the entertainment industry, the Taft-Hartley Act is best known for the lasting effect that law has had on the process of hiring non-union actors onto a unionized film shoot.

That's because, in an effort to limit union power, the Taft-Hartley Act outlawed "closed shops."

"Closed shops" means an employer may not lawfully agree with a union to hire only union members.

Note: So-called "union shops," that require new hires to join the union within a certain amount of time, are still permitted. Specifically, the Taft-Hartley Act says that a union and an employer, as part of a collective bargaining agreement, can agree to a contract that requires new workers to join the union within thirty days after the date of hire.

A modern Screen Actors Guild ("SAG") deal with a producer will say that non-union actors can be hired for up to 30 days as long as that actor joins the union or pays the same amount that union members are paying to the union. After 30 days, the non-union actor must join the union.

The provisions of the SAG deal that allow non-union actors to work on union films are known in the industry as "Taft-Hartley."

Note: SAG wants producers to hire SAG actors first, so there's a box on the SAG "Taft-Hartley" paperwork where a producer is asked to explain why the non-union actor is being hired. There are several options under "Reason for Hire," including "first employment" of someone who intends to pursue professional acting, operator of a special vehicle or someone who has a "special skill."

"Taft-Hartley" is the way many young actors get into the union - and gain access to the higher-paying more prestigious SAG work.

Here's more detailed information about SAG and "Taft-Hartley":

SAG has as their first rule (e.g., SAG Rule One) a ban on working with companies that don't sign a SAG union contract. In other words, when you become a member of SAG, you agree not to work on any non-union production. Penalties for violating Rule One are imposed on the union member, not on the employer, and can lead to loss of union membership. Because of Rule One, SAG actors are supposed to refuse work on non-union shows. And, if a producer wants to hire one SAG actor - that producer is required to sign a union deal. That's how many shows get unionized - becoming a "union shop."

But isn't that effectively an illegal "closed shop?"

No - a non-union member can still get a job on a union film. Here's how:

When a producer wants to hire a non-SAG actor to work on a SAG film, the casting director or the production coordinator will call SAG (ask for Station 12) or go online to check the actor's "clearance."

"Clearance" means check the actor's eligibility before putting them in front of the camera. SAG will want the name, the social security number of the player and the work dates. SAG will then issue the film a report about that player with a SAG code that denotes that actor's status: 1) OK30 = OK to work for the next 30 days, 2) STN12 = Station 12. This person is a member of SAG, but owes dues. S/he has 48 hours to pay up. 3) MUSTPAY = Must Join within the next 48 hours. Typically, this means that actor worked on a previous project more than 30 days ago. The understanding is that if s/he got another SAG job, they would need to join SAG no matter what. Make sure they join, or else your production will be in violation of SAG rules, 4) NRNG = No Record, Non-Guild. Not a member. You will need to fill out a Taft-Hartley form for this actor, 5) OKCG = OK to work, but call SAG for more information, 6) OKWB = OK to work, Worked Before. You'll see this mostly in "Right-to-Work" (see below) states, where the actor worked before on a SAG film and may not be required to join the union on this job because of right-to-work law. However, SAG wants the production to file a Taft-Hartley form for this actor.

As indicated above, when hiring an OK30, OKWB or NRNG actor, SAG will require that the production justify (check a box on the Taft/Hartley report that must be filed within 15 days of first employment for every non-union hire) as to why they need to hire this non-union actor rather than a SAG member. In general, the Taft-Hartley process with SAG is easier if the actor has a "special skill" required for the job that is hard to come by. For example, skateboarding or Farsi speaking.

NOTE: Don't put an actor in front of the cameras on a union film without checking the clearance and/or your deal with SAG. The producer gets penalized if SAG finds out you have used a non-SAG player - or if your SAG players are not paid up.

Any Non-Record Non-Guild performer who works as a principal performer (i.e., speaking part) on a project (film, commercial, TV show, etc.) is considered "SAG-Eligible." A SAG-Eligible performer may work in other SAG or non-SAG productions without joining the union for 30 days after their first hire, during which time that performer is classified as a "Taft-Hartley".

After the 30-day Taft-Hartley period has expired, by SAG rule the performer may not work on any further SAG productions until first joining SAG, by: paying the initiation fee with the first half-year minimum membership dues, and agreeing to abide by the Guild's rules and bylaws. In other words, membership in SAG is required for Non-Guild Non-Record actors, in most cases, either (a) 30 days after the first principal employment or (b) 30 days after a background actor (non-speaking part) has received his or her third voucher (non-union actors get a voucher for every day worked on a SAG film - but note: SAG insists on getting the original pay stub as proof of employment). Members joining the Los Angeles, New York, or Miami SAG locals are currently (Nov. 2011) assessed an initial fee to join the Guild of $2,277. At the time of initiation, the first minimum semi-annual membership dues payment of $58 must also be paid, bringing the total amount due upon initiation into the Guild to $2,335. That big check is one reason that some actors decide not to join SAG.

(Note: The right to a "union shop" varies from state to state. That's because the Taft-Hartley Act also allowed individual states to ban the union shop by passing so-called "Right-to-Work" Laws that prohibited employees from being required to join a union as a condition of receiving or retaining a job. Currently 21 states, including all of the states in the Deep South and a number of states in the Midwest, Plains, and Rocky Mountains, have right-to-work laws permitting employees to work without paying dues and initiation fees. Unions call such people "free riders.")

To sum up: Once the producer signs with SAG, non-union actors who are Non-Guild Non-Record can be hired for 30 days... but they must 1) join SAG or 2) pay what union members pay to SAG. After 30 days, they've got to join the union to keep working on SAG films.

Here's a clip of Senator Robert Taft (author of the Taft-Hartley Act and Chair of the Senate Labor Committee) explaining the new law in 1947:



Many thanks to my colleague, Lisa Cook, for her help with this post.

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