To Work or Not To Work
(Without an Equity Contract)
When is it OK for me to work without an Equity contract?
The best, and shortest, answer is "never." There is never a reason for an Equity member to work without a contract. Accepting such work undermines the union's considerable efforts to maintain standards for professional actors and stage managers. Often, by involving Equity, terms can be reached with even the most reluctant producers to bring the show under contract.
But this theatre is really small-time; but this gig is really short; but I'm just doing it as a favor...
Equity has endeavored to be flexible by creating contracts that cover all levels of work. Agreements such as Special Appearance, Guest Artist, Business Theatre and Staged Reading can often be utilized to bring the work onto Equity contract. If you're wondering, call Equity.
Shouldn't Equity let me know if a show is non-union?
On our website, the staff will post notices of shows that are casting non-union, especially those we have tried to get on Equity contract. Similar notices are also often posted on SAG-AFTRA’s website. It's worth checking our website before auditioning, especially if the notice doesn't state the type of Equity contract that will apply. These notices can be found on the "Equity, 4As "Do Not Work" Notices page.
But this is a benefit performance...
Benefit performances, using Equity members, must be approved by the Theatre Authority. Equity can help producers through the process and can answer any questions members may have.
Click here to get more info and contact the Theatre Authority
What about shows not in Equity's jurisdiction?
You should call Equity and ask. Sometimes the producer will say it is covered by Equity, but it’s not. Sometimes the work is in an area Equity is attempting to organize. Sometimes it is in the jurisdiction of a sister union. In any case, you may not accept the employment.
Actors' Equity, SAG-AFTRA, AGMA, AGVA and the Italian Actors' Union are all part of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (the "4As"), and as such, we recognize, respect and support each other’s efforts to organize and negotiate fair and equitable contracts. As a member of any 4A's union, you are bound by your union's constitution to uphold these provisions. If you do not do so, you can be disciplined under the 4As charter, which specifically calls for the discipline of members of one union who are working without contract in the jurisdiction of another union.
I live in a "right-to-work" state. Doesn't that mean I have the right to work without an Equity Contract?
No. It does not. "Right-to-work" does not impact upon your obligations as an Equity member. Once you have joined, you have agreed never to work without an Equity contract.
I’m on Temporary Withdrawal (or Suspended Payment).
You are still an Equity member and are still bound by the same rules about working non-union —meaning you cannot do it.
What could happen if I am discovered working without benefit of contract?
First of all, there is the moral penalty of knowing you have betrayed your fellow union members. But there are steep, tangible liabilities as well. In accordance with Equity's Constitution and By-Laws, a Charges Hearing Committee is convened. It hears the case and decides on the remedy. Penalties can include fines, letters of apology to the membership and potential expulsion from the union.
Can I resign to work non-Equity, then rejoin?
Equity membership is a hard-won honor and something of which to be proud. Many actors dream of the day they "get their card." It is not a commodity to be traded for financial gain or convenience. Unfortunately, some actors do make the choice to leave Equity to take non-union work. Often, those actors wish to rejoin the union later. In that event, their case must go before the Executive Committee. The actor may or may not be allowed to re-join and penalties may apply.
What if my agent sends me for non-Equity work?
Equity's agency regulations state that an agent, who knowingly advises a member to seek non-union employment, is subject to a fine of $5,000 for a first offense and additional penalties, including loss of franchise, for subsequent offenses.
And one last thought...
An important point to remember is that while this article is mainly about working without an Equity contract, there's more to your Equity membership.
Today's professional performers must be able to work in every medium: theatre, television, radio, film, the internet and other new media platforms. To protect the wages and working conditions that everyone deserves, members of one union must not undermine another union's efforts to organize professional work opportunities.
If you have questions, contact Equity before committing to a project. Call or email Flora Stamatiades, National Director, Organizing and Special Projects, at 212-869-8530, ext. 419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.