An important question I often get is “how do I join the union?” This question comes from many people I meet, from established editors to the young people just starting out in the Hollywood. The catch is that the answer isn’t at all that simple. The question should be: “should I join the union?” Putting it simply, if you’re asking that question, the answer is not quite yet. But that’s just the beginning of the story.
The people who should “join the union” are people who have been offered a position on a union show and are either rostered or have some other loophole to exploit. Since the latter is a longshot, your best bet to joining the union is to roster. But let’s slow down a minute and talk about why you would want to join the union. The Motion Picture Editors Guild is a valuable organization of many of the most talented post-production artists in Hollywood. It provides great benefits: health insurance, a pension plan, protection from overwork/underpay, free screenings and seminars, and finally great discounts for things like software and cellphone plans. (For a complete list, check out this link.) But with every benefit, there is a downside. But that’s another rant.
So what do you need to join the union? Well, the answer is you need to work non-union. You need to work, be paid, and be credited as an editor (or whatever editing title you join the union as, i.e. Assistant Editor, etc.) You can make below union scale. You can work inconsistently. All you need to have is the ability to demonstrate that you have 175 days of non-union work experience in the three years prior to applying. If you’re joining as an Assistant or something else, the day requirement will be even less! Now, let’s say you’ve met these requirements. What should you do? Well, you should roster. What is rostering? Rostering is a list of membership-eligible people who the union says are qualified for work, but haven’t gotten their first union job yet. It’s a sneaky way to keep you on their radar and to keep you from lying when you say “yes” if someone asks about your union status. Of course, you don’t get anything tangable for rostering besides the piece of mind, but the advantage this provides is it allows a potential union employer to judge your resume without worrying about whether you’re in the union or not. For information about what to do once you’re at this stage, click over to this link at the union’s website.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you must be asking yourself “how do I get a union job?” Honestly, that’s the hard part. Meeting people who could potentially hire you on union productions is entirely based on who you know. Not being able to help anyone with that, I’ll address the circumstances under which you should jump from rostering to actually becoming a full member: don’t do it unless you are offered a job for more than a few months. The initiation fees are hundreds of dollars, and in order to get any of the health benefits, you need to work an initial 600 hours to qualify, so don’t do it if you won’t be working enough to justify it. You should be very confident that you’ll be working for months, not weeks, and if you’re not making enough, keep your money and wait. I personally waited two years between rostering and joining.
And what is it like on the inside? Well, it’s kind of a double-edged sword. I’ll save you the rant for Part 2 (forthcoming) but it certainly can be awesome. The hardest part is to keep working union shows enough to maintain your benefits. But if you can do that, it’s a great thing to have. My only question is whether its sustainable in its current model. But again, I’ll save that for Part 2.
For more information, leave a comment here or head on over to the Guild’s website. Check back for my next entry in the saga of the Editor’s Guild…