How to Use Taft-Hartley to Join SAG in 4 Steps

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Before stepping it up in “Step Up,” Channing Tatum earned his coveted SAG card by showing how he bangs (he bangs) as a bartender in a Ricky Martin music video. This was made possible by the Taft-Hartley Act, a piece of legislation that has become essential to an actor’s path to SAG-AFTRA membership—even though it wasn’t created with Hollywood in mind. Here, we explain the ins and outs of the act, its background, and how it can help you advance toward being one of the field’s most prestigious union members.


What is the Taft-Hartley Act?

The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, otherwise known as the Taft-Hartley Act, changed the American labor market by balancing power relations between employers and unions. Created in reaction to the rise of labor strikes after World War II, the statute covers labor relations in a broad sense—but one modest but important clause provides workers (like performers) with a special opportunity to become members of unions (like SAG).

How to use Taft-Hartley to join SAG

You generally need to have a particular level of experience, such as speaking roles in SAG productions, to become a guild member. However, Taft-Hartley offers an alternative to joining the union if you follow these steps:

1. Land a part in a SAG project. The first step is securing a speaking role in a production that’s covered by a union agreement. Look for indie films, student productions, and new media initiatives under SAG contracts.

2. Wait on the production report: Production must send a Taft-Hartley report within 15 days of the first day of work. This report justifies your employment over that of a union member by stating that you, an actor who is not a member of the union, were particularly suitable for the part for whatever reason—such as Tatum’s killer dance moves. 

3. Gain SAG eligibility: Once the Taft-Hartley report has been filed, you become SAG-eligible. You can work as a non-member on SAG productions for a maximum of 30 days, but after that, you’ll need to become a member to continue working on union initiatives.

4. Join SAG: Once your eligibility has been confirmed, you can formally apply for membership. Expect to pay an initiation fee and commit to following the guidelines set forth by the union.

Actors who used Taft-Hartley to get their SAG card

Terry Crews, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Jennifer Lawrence, Rami Malek, Edward Norton

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Many of today’s stars of the screen started off with a Taft-Hartley waiver that they used as a stepping stone to gain access to industry opportunities. Here are a few examples of some who’ve spoken about it:

  • Terry Crews: “I got Taft-Hartley-ed in,” Crews told Vulture. “It was wild. The director just wanted me, and I got an off-chance audition, and out of all the SAG actors—I wasn’t SAG—he was like, ‘We’re gonna put him in.’ I was in from there. After that, it was a wrap!” 
  • Kirby Howell-Baptiste: “My SAG card I got from doing a web series!” Howell-Baptiste said. “It was SAG New Media. It was this weird, kind of terrible horror web series that I did an episode of. It felt like a backdoor. SAG was so elite, and you either got a job or your vouchers. New Media came along, and a bunch of people made their own web series and got SAG [cards] that way. Very punk rock, very socialist, maybe even anarchist—cracking the system open.”
  • Jennifer Lawrence: When I was 14, I did an MTV promo for ‘My Super Sweet 16,’” Lawrence explained about how she earned her waiver.
  • Rami Malek: “I was Taft-Hartley-ed for ‘Gilmore Girls,’ Malek said. “I think I had two lines.”
  • Edward Norton: “I got my SAG card on ‘Primal Fear,’ Norton said. “They had to Taft–Hartley me on ‘Primal Fear,’ so I got my SAG card and Oscar nomination on the same film.”

These actor’s paths were shaped by a combination of good fortune, timing, and natural skill—but they all began their union membership through Taft-Hartley.

Using Taft-Hartley to break into acting

The Taft-Hartley Act might seem like a mere footnote in the vast script of labor laws, but for many actors, it’s the first line in the story of their success. By understanding and using this provision, aspiring actors can navigate their way into SAG and lay the foundation for a career in the industry. Remember, every big name started somewhere, and for many, this legislation was the opening act of an illustrious career. The journey of SAG-AFTRA membership might be challenging, but with determination, talent, and a little help from Taft-Hartley, the dream is within reach.