Will Says….If You Want to Be An Actor, Join a ‘Union’!


I have a first folks, I can honestly say I normally stand in the middle of a problem and try to see BOTH sides the story. However, with this problem I start off standing on one side and don’t think I will be crossing the line, the union line, that is, to see the other side.

See, this whole thing in Wisconsin is dealing with a subject that I have some strong beliefs about, the Unions.

I have been a union member since 1985, 26 years! Now I don’t know if being in the union as an actor is the same as it is for a teacher or a city worker. I do know we work a lot less. Regardless, there are many issues on the table and I am going to work from what I know, the Screen Actors Guild.

First off, it took me a long time to get into this union and sometimes actors don’t get into the unions in their lifetime. It’s probably one of the hardest unions to get into. You have to be in the union to work as an actor on a union job and you can only become in the union if you work on a union job, It’s a catch 22. There are ways of getting in, but let’s just say, luck is the biggest one in any actor’s bag of tricks.


Why be union as opposed to non-union… Here are a few reasons, in case you decide that acting is your passion and you want to sell the farm and go west to be the next, _____ – Fill in the blank.

Union wage: $500 + a day, plus residuals every time a movie, or commercial …show airs. If you go over xx hours you make overtime and the go over xxx time, it’s call Golden Time and you get double time. residuals could be a lot, think Verizon guy…

Non union rate of pay: from Free – $100 – $200 a day, IF you’re lucky. So, if they work you for 15 hours, no one will be there to collect more. I worked for a film one time and we shot the last day for 26 hours. They said, “Here is our promise, you will get something from us in the mail.” By the way, I think that is where the term “the checks in the mail’ came from. It never did.

Benefits: union: if you make enough you get full benefits. Problem with that one is it’s hard to get work. The stats are: less than 1% work as a union actor. Your odds are better in Vegas.

Now, I could go on and on with all the plusses for being in a union but the bottom line is, the unions make sure we are taken care of: The space we use, the conditions, and get paid well enough…

I know this (Republican) Governor does not like the union for two reasons: 1. Collective bargaining, which is better said: if you have a problem in a union job you have not just one person negotiating, i.e. yourself, but a union…

Webster’s Dictionary: Union

Function: noun 3b: A unified condition: combination, junction a gracious union of excellence and strength

You have many, strength in numbers.

Without unions if a person has z problem in their job and speaks out, they might lose their job. If that same person is union and the union leaders address that issue, it may mean change for all workers.

The real problem with this issue is that voters see right through the politicians’ game.

The game: The Democrats need to keep in with the unions, mainly because union members usually means Democratic voters and the Republicans know if they bust the unions in a place like Wisconsin, the rest of the States are a piece of cake.

Another case of Republicans having their cake and devouring it too.

Below is a reprint of some of my comments on the union writers’ strike a few years back.

(Writers Strike) Now, I want to tread lightly on this subject, mainly because I am a union person as well, (SAG: Screen Actors Guild) which, of course, is for actors. They have not asked me into the Writer’s Guild yet. Could be that what I do here is considered more like ramblings and not writing. Plus, it is way easier to be an actor than a writer. You don’t have to know how to spell to be an actor. (Applause) Thank you, thank you… anyhow, seems these hard working … (tap keyboard) hardest working writers in Hollywood and not being included in the big “New Media” pay off. You know, the one that you have coming through your ‘phones, IPods, internet, DVDs and coming to a chip in your head soon. They are getting the same pay for more distribution; i.e. WORK.

See, performers, writers, and artists can make a deal with the folks that can get their work out to the masses either one of two ways.

#1. They can do a buy-out where they pay you one lump amount for the project. And you never hear from them again. In the biz, we call that NON-union. It is like a flea market, you know, you got a good deal when you bought it. And the seller does not know you will sell it for 5 times the amount OR

#2. You create a project (produce, write, act in … etc.) and you get an amount of money each time it shows. (That is called UNION). (The union figures that you spent all the years struggling so you deserve to get paid every time they use your product, just in case you never work again.

However, the struggle in Hollywood is that the backend folks making all the money – NOT the writers, are not sharing the wealth. So the writers want their share. It is the American way. Now, not since 1988 has there been a strike and when that happened, shows like Johnny Carson were off the air for 2 months. Not only because of loyalty to the union but if you look at the closing credits of talk shows like Letterman, or Leno, you will see 25 names listed in the credits of writers. That is because Hollywood has become so serious that it takes that many writers to make something funny.

Now, they don’t expect the strike to last too long, and in the meantime, if you Hollywood folks need a hand with some jokes, you can steal mine. Now you have to steal ‘um because I won’t step over the union line to give ‘um to ya. Just open up a newspaper, go to the political section and start reading.

Your friend,

Will Roberts is a trick roper and cowboy humorist, who pays tribute to Will Rogers, America’s cowboy, with a wit as quick as his rope. Will is a syndicated political cartoonist and was recently the trick-roping cowboy at Cirque du Soleil.

Will has covered the Republican National Convention, Democrat events and the McCain-Obama debates. At home in front of or behind the camera, in front of or behind a radio microphone, Will reports what he sees, usually with a twist of humor.