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Union Facts & Advantages

Listen up! The American Federation of Radio Artists (AFTRA) represents over 70,000 artists. It covers broadcast, public and cable television, radio, sound recordings, non-broadcast” and industrial material as well as Internet and digital programming.

If you are looking to sound serious about the entertainment industry, take note of these very important AFTRA details…

Q. More and more productions are choosing AFTRA. Why is this?

More and more programs are being shot on a digital format.

Q: Will AFTRA expand to cover film?

No, film is SAG’s jurisdiction.

Q: Why is AFTRA more TV focused while SAG is film?

Since AFTRA (the American Federation of Radio Artists) merged with the TVA (the Television Authority) in 1952, AFTRA has had jurisdiction in both television and radio, when they were live. Since then, programs on videotape have also fallen under AFTRA’s jurisdiction. SAG has always covered film.

Q. Why is the only way to join… to pay – not to get waivers or another ‘earning’ way?

AFTRA is an open union, which means anyone can apply for membership. Otherwise, we look at work dates, not earnings. When a non-member, who has worked an AFTRA job – i.e., like a waiver – is then booked on another AFTRA job beyond the 30-day Taft-Hartley period, we will ask that performer to join.

Q. After being an AFTRA member for a year, an artist can join SAG. Why? What is the connection between the two unions that allows this?

The connection is a longstanding relationship with a common interest: professional performers who work in front of a camera, or as voiceovers. Also, we have a similar arrangement with Equity.

Q. There is a significant cost to joining AFTRA (as with SAG) – do you see this increasing steadily and what are the benefits?

The initiation fee is currently $1600. Since it was only just increased this past November (from $1300, which was in place for several years), I doubt there will be another increase again soon. The benefits of joining range from the service we provide in negotiating and enforcing the contracts, to qualifying for health coverage and a pension, to workshops, seminars, access to casting and agents.

Q. In SAG there is a percentage of actors on-set who must be SAG – is this true for AFTRA as well? If so, is there a difference between NY and LA?

In primetime dramas, AFTRA and SAG have the same terms, i.e., the company must hire a set number of union background performers before going with non-union. In other types of programs – e.g., variety shows, soap operas, talk shows – all performers, including all background performers, are covered by the AFTRA contract.

Q: If you are a member of AFTRA, do you think there is a better chance of getting representation / an AFTRA franchised agent?

You might get a better read from the agents on how they feel about that, but we do provide access to agents by setting up individual appointments every year through our Open Door program.

Q: Can an AFTRA person create their own content with non-union people? – (i.e. in SAG you cannot act in any non-union project even if YOU are the one at the helm of it)

I think it would depend on the nature of the project. We would need more information on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Will there be a cap on the number of actors allowed to join AFTRA at any given time?


Q: Is there an AFTRA name limit – like the SAG CARD name – on a first come basis?

Yes, same thing. Can’t have two performers with the same professional name.

Q. Can an actor do an AFTRA job if they are not AFTRA – as long as they join by a certain time/point?

Yes, an actor who has never worked an AFTRA job, or has worked an AFTRA job(s) only within the past 30 days of the anticipated employment, may work the job without having to join. Upon the next booking, after the 30 days from the individual’s first job, he/she will be asked to file an application for membership and make a down payment toward the $1600 initiation fee, prior to working.

Q. Can an AFTRA person do non-union films? Commercials? What are the union versus non-union rules and boundaries?

No. Members of any of the 4As unions should not accept non-union performing work that falls within any of the sister unions’ jurisdictions. Student films or programs (e.g., NYU or Columbia Graduate) are an exception.

Q. Does online work / webisodes fall under AFTRA rules?

Yes, AFTRA has contracts covering work for online content.

Q: Are there events / free or otherwise – in New York which NYCastings members can go to?

We have weekly seminars for our members. Speakers from all walks of the business come to talk about their area of expertise. Also, every year we schedule an introductory, New Members Meeting.

To find out more about becoming an AFTRA member visit

Thank you so much ~ Michel Kinter at AFTRA ~ for your help with this article!

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