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First the writers went on strike. Now there’s talk of a possible actor’s strike. I’m sure many of you are wondering what the hell is going on? What’s with all the strikes and aren’t all you guys being paid enough? The simple answer is money. Everyone wants to make more money. The writers, the actors, the producers, the unions…, they all want to make more money.

Greed

With the economy heading into a recession, it seems kind of greedy for the actors and writers to be striking for even more pay, doesn’t it? I think so. I make no attempts to hide my disdain for unions even though I am a member of one. This all leads to another series of questions. So what’s with these entertainment guilds/unions? Are they even necessary? I mean, it’s not like we’re living in the times of Jimmy Hoffa. The unfortunate answer is yes. The unions are necessary to ensure certain rights beyond mere pay.  And this answer is unfortunate because I find myself in the strange position of defending the need for unions.

DGA logo WGA logo SAG logo

Residuals

Residuals are like royalty payments for song writers. As long as the studios and distributors can make money exploiting a certain product or widget (like a movie or TV show), it’s only fair that the creators of the product receive a portion of it. The unions are there to enforce, administrate and distribute the residuals paid by distributors to the creative contributors to a movie or TV show.

Residuals are the lifeblood, and to many the lifeline, of the entertainment industry. Most members of the DGA, the WGA or SAG do not work full time.  They are employed sporadically by the individual film or TV productions that hire them. Residuals help them get by in between jobs or during hiatus if they work in television.  I have a friend who is still getting residual checks for a movie she made over 20 years ago.  The management of residuals alone would make the unions necessary.

Insurance and Pension Plans

The entertainment unions are able to secure better health insurance plans and rate for its members through the magic of volume discounts.  The unions also provide pension plans and retirement benefits to those members who have paid into the system.

While these rates may not be necessary for the über rich stars, directors and screenwriters you see on E! and Entertainment Tonight, they help the lower rank and file members of the unions tremendously.  People like stunt men, assistant directors, production managers, staff writers and anyone else who’s name doesn’t appear on a movie’s poster.

Working Conditions

The typical production day on a movie shoot runs between 10 and 14 hours.  Those are long hours.  The hours could be longer though.  The reason they are not is because the unions guarantee that reasonable working conditions be kept. Otherwise, producers must compensate union members for any unreasonable working conditions.  For those of you who don’t think that this is necessary, just try and work on a movie in Asia.

Other Creative Rights

There are many other creative rights that differ with each profession that the unions protect.  The right to a first cut for directors.  Separated rights and credit arbitration for writers.  Image and likeness rights for actors.  And so on and so on.  These creative rights are all protected and enforced by the entertainment unions based off their collective bargaining powers.

As you can see, the entertainment unions are unfortunately necessary to protect its members and preserve certain creative rights.  I personally believe that the unions power and usefulness end here.  The fight for more pay, the public posturing and the strikes represent everything that’s wrong with the unions and come out of their perverse and greedy desire to increase the union’s power and scope beyond what’s necessary and protect their phoney-baloney jobs.

union motives

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