Do Child Actors Need to Join a Union?

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Photo Source: Jordan Sondler

Q: Do child actors need to join a union? —@RealOliviaJames

Here’s the technical lowdown on kids and SAG-AFTRA. The first time your child does a SAG-AFTRA job in a principal role, they will get a Taft-Hartley waiver. This waiver allows nonunion members to work a union job. The waiver covers them for an additional 30 days after the end date of the original project, allowing your child to do as many other SAG-AFTRA jobs as they book in that time. After the 30 days, your child will be considered a “must-join,” which means they can’t perform another SAG-AFTRA job until they join the union.* (Note that the minimum age to join SAG-AFTRA is 4.)

This is where it gets tricky. Many people want to join the moment their child is eligible. I understand that impulse—being SAG-AFTRA is a prestigious status for an actor, and union jobs pay way more than nonunion ones. Being in the union is undeniably a good thing.

But my personal preference is that a child doesn’t join until they have to. That means your child doesn’t have to join the moment that the 30 days are up, but instead can wait until their next SAG-AFTRA booking comes in. It could be three months later, six months later, or two years later.

In the meantime, there are a plethora of nonunion jobs your child could be doing. Nonunion work pays a lot less, but it helps accumulate money toward the SAG-AFTRA initiation fee of $3,000, and your child is continuing to get on set experience and credits. Plus, they’re constantly auditioning and staying fresh. At this point in time, nonunion gigs outnumber union ones by a large margin, so your child will probably stay busier out of the union.

It all comes down to your personal preference at the time your child becomes eligible to join. Think carefully about your options and know that this is a big decision. It also means your child is successful and so are you, having navigated them this far, so congratulations!

*This is the case for child actors in principal roles. Child actors can do unlimited background work without joining the union until age 14, at which point the same rules apply and they have to join. If child actors quit the business after that first booking or they are only interested in nonunion work, they also are not required to join.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Jackie Reid
Jackie Reid owns and operates L’il Angels Unlimited, a talent management company, which specializes in placing young actors in films, theater productions, commercials, print media, on television, and with voiceover work. Reid works extensively with agents in New York and L.A.
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