Frontier Insider

“Fi-Core,” short for “Financial Core,” is one of the most controversial issues facing on-camera performers today. Many actors, agents, managers, casting directors and other industry professionals do not fully understand what it is, and are therefore making uninformed, unwise, and potentially career-destroying decisions or recommendations about it to actors.

In the past, when well-meaning articles about Fi-Core came out, the union saw a small increase in membership resignations and rejections. So, SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing strategy has been to not discuss the issue at all publicly. But as a result of this silence only the wrong information about “Fi-Core” is spreading out there, infecting actors across the country.

Currently, only roughly 3,000 performers are officially Fi-Core nationwide. However, a few thousand union members are FALSELY CLAIMING to be Fi-Core, what we’ve internally come to call “Lie-Core.” They either didn’t know how to officially become Fi-Core, or had no intention to and are willfully misleading casting and clients so they can work non-union jobs, or what we call working “off the card,” and hoping they won’t get caught.

Worse than that is the additional thousands of union members who don’t even bother to lie about being Fi-Core and just work off the card. It has created a race to the bottom of desperate performers scrambling for work at any price, cutting the legs out from under the one entity fighting to establish and maintain at least minimum standards for everyone.

All of this is very troubling for us union members who stand strong in solidarity with each other to draw a line in the sand that producers can’t cross. It’s especially destructive when union members work non-union jobs. It’s disloyal, union-busting, anti-labor, in direct opposition to workers’ rights movements, and creates an existential crisis for the entire union, and the concept of unionism itself.

So the lack of understanding about Fi-Core is a problem that needs to be addressed by someone, so I’m addressing it. Even though I am currently on the SAG-AFTRA LA Local Board of Directors this article is only my opinion, and does not represent any official view or opinion of the union, staff, or other member leaders.

I believe our union’s success depends on performers being educated about issues like Fi-Core. Either we, as an artistic community, believe in the value of our art, unions in general, and SAG-AFTRA, or we don’t. So, let’s start there.

WHAT IS SAG-AFTRA? WHAT IS OUR “UNION”?

All professional actors are part of a community of fellow performing artists. We all aspire to make a respectable living with our art and qualify for healthcare and retirement benefits. For most of us, that’s the goal and a reasonable definition of success.

To achieve this goal, members of our artistic community decided to unite together 85 years ago to negotiate for better working conditions, pay, and benefits. Thanks to decades of hard work, today virtually all the most professional and successful on-camera performers are bonded in artistic union as SAG-AFTRA.

So, when you hear or read “SAG-AFTRA,” it’s not a faceless corporate entity, but a family of 160,000 performers like you and me who have made a commitment to each other. When we pay our initiation and dues as members of SAG-AFTRA, we’re pooling our collective resources to hire staff to serve and protect our artistic community, and so we can negotiate as one, united voice with our employers.

Those pooled resources also enable our union to provide our members with amazing opportunities to learn about the business and craft, stay sharp, develop new skills, build relationships with industry pros, care for each other, and save money on virtually everything we buy through group discounts. These member privileges give us a huge advantage over non-union actors in our pursuit of success.

So why would anyone want to undermine our artistic union and its ability to do these things? That’s at the heart of the “Fi-Core” controversy in the acting community.

SO WHAT IS FI-CORE?

You can reject, or resign from, membership in any union in the country by officially electing to go “Financial Core” and still keep the right to work in that union’s workplaces as long as you continue to pay fees for the core functions of the union: negotiating and enforcing your employment contracts. As a “Fee-Paying Non-Member”, you do not have to pay for any of the non-core activities of the union, but you also lose all the privileges of membership.

Now, as it relates to actors and SAG-AFTRA:

1// Fi-Core actors are not members of SAG-AFTRA and cannot claim to be union.

Fi-Core actors have resigned or rejected SAG-AFTRA membership, and as such are not union members. You cannot claim to be SAG-AFTRA on your online casting profiles or list it on your resume. You are a non-union actor with the right to work on a union set.

2// SAG-AFTRA didn’t start it and can’t stop it without legislation. It is national labor law.

Fi-Core status is the result of Supreme Court decisions that came out of lawsuits involving auto and communications workers and their unions. Any member of any union can resign and go Fi-Core. Our union cannot refuse to comply with national labor law and cannot discriminate against Fi-Core status performers.

3// Fi-Core status was created when workers disagreed with paying for their union’s political activities.

Say you’re a Democrat and your union endorses and financially supports Republicans; you can resign, not pay for things like that, and still work your union job by paying fees supporting the core functions of the union. That’s what Fi-Core was created for; to protect our right to free speech, not to undermine the union you rely on to negotiate fair wages and working conditions. Sadly, SAG-AFTRA wasn’t exempted from the Fi-Core decision even though it doesn’t engage in politics.

4// Fi-Core status was never meant to harm unions, but it uniquely hurts ours by accident.

95% of unionized workers nationwide work one job at a time for one employer at a time that pays them a livable wage. Those workers’ lives fully depend on the strength of their union.

But because most actors have to work multiple jobs for multiple employers in an effort to make a living, for some there may be a temptation to work non-union jobs. However, this undermines the union and the value of our art by making it possible for producers to hire actors without meeting union-negotiated standards.

The greater the number of actors willing to work non-union jobs, the weaker SAG-AFTRA is in negotiations and financial health. If enough actors in our artistic community are willing to work non-union, the union will cease to be relevant and, thus, cease to exist.

5// Because of this potential for harm, union members are not allowed to work non-union jobs.

SAG-AFTRA Global Rule One prohibits our members from working non-union jobs. Violating this rule comes with serious consequences like fines and even permanent expulsion. Technology is making it easier than ever to catch violators.

6// A legal loophole enables Fi-Core actors to avoid accountability for hurting the union.

If you resign and go Fi-Core, you are no longer a member of the union. As a “Fee-Paying Non-Member”, the union is powerless to hold you accountable for violating Global Rule One, because union rules only apply to its members. That legal loophole allows Fi-Core actors to still technically work SAG-AFTRA jobs even if they are undermining the union by working non-union jobs too.

TIME FOR A DISCUSSION AS AN ARTISTIC COMMUNITY.

That is why Fi-Core is so controversial and why it is so important that we talk about it. Using Fi-Core status in that way is a danger to all of us who believe in being united and strong as an artistic community so we can persuade employers to produce under union contracts.

Our members in leadership and our staff negotiate employment contracts with the producers of commercials through the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) and the producers of TV/Film through the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The only reason those two entities negotiate with SAG-AFTRA is because they don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with a united and strong community of 160,000 of the best on-camera and voiceover performers.

The key words here are united and strong. If our employers stop believing in the unity and strength of our artistic community and its negotiating entity, SAG-AFTRA, they’ll realize they can stop meeting our demands and all the hard-won progress we’ve made over almost 100 years will fail.

FI-CORE ACTORS HURT OTHER ENTERTAINMENT UNIONS

When an employer produces non-union projects, it doesn’t just affect actors. It also affects our sister entertainment unions, like DGA, WGA, IATSE, Teamsters and many others. But actors are the faces and voices of these projects, so when thinking about Fi-Core, we need to ask ourselves if we value of the members of these other entertainment unions as well. Going Fi-Core as an excuse to work non-union is not neutral, it’s anti-union.

That is why many entertainment union industry professionals view Fi-Core actors as union-busting scabs: someone who is willing to selfishly take the job of a union member who is holding out and fighting for better pay and conditions for all. And, in some cases, they’re not wrong.

Most industry pros are progressive, pro-union, and/or unionized themselves. And so, just because Fi-Core actors can still, technically, work union jobs, it doesn’t mean they’ll get those opportunities. We’re seeing a trend in casting where union auditions are being preserved for union members, and Fi-Core actors are being brought in for mainly non-union jobs. In almost all cases, actors who go Fi-Core see their yearly union earnings decrease. Personally, I don’t know anyone who wants to give up union work for non-union work.

WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER

Remember, businesses will reduce costs and boost profits to the extent that we will let them. They’ll exploit us right up to our breaking point. And, in so many cases, we let them because we love what we do so much, we have to do it.

My friend and mentor Kevin McCorkle once brilliantly said, “Our union is there to protect us from ourselves. We love what we do so much that we would do it for free.”

So, thank God we have inherited a community structure that fought back against the corporate profit machine. As individuals, we have no bargaining power. United, we have tremendous power.

I encourage each SAG-AFTRA member to get more involved in helping me and others fix the issues within our union that also contribute to why producers produce non-union and people go Fi-Core. We need a healthier union; one that better serves our members and the producers who want to hire us and makes being a SAG-AFTRA member so valuable that all performers will want to be one.

I can no longer separate the health of my acting career from the health of my union.

I encourage those that are Fi-Core to rejoin our union, be part of the solution not part of the problem, and take advantage of all the existing resources offered to members to help you succeed through doing union work, not non-union. Instead, let’s work together to organize that non-union work under one of our many contracts. Help guide the process along, working with our amazing staff, to ensure the producers get their questions and needs addressed in a clear, kind, and timely fashion.

If you’ve been considering going Fi-Core, I encourage you to first make a sincere effort to learn about the many ways SAG-AFTRA gives you, me and our fellow members an advantage over non-union actors. Chances are the reason you’re considering Fi-Core is because you are struggling to make a living as an artist and you’re tempted to try to supplement your income by working non-union jobs. I would bet that if you could make a living with only union work, you wouldn’t even consider being anti-union.

If you’re a current member of SAG-AFTRA who works off the card, please stop, for your own sake, as much as for our union’s sake. Resign or be reliable. No member of our artistic union should have to tolerate a fellow member who willfully violates our commitment to each other and weakens our union’s solidarity.

The value and future of our art, our profession, and our union is at stake. It’s up to all of us to protect that value.

Let’s act like we care.

 


About Shaan Sharma:  Shaan started acting in his home state of Minnesota where he was best known for his passion for protecting aspiring talent from scams and exploitation as producer/director of the Fresh Face Showcase (’03-’06), an annual fashion, modeling, acting, music, and dance event with the mission to spread awareness on how to safely enter the talent business.

Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2007, Shaan has quickly grown into one of the most respected and sought-after educators for on-camera acting craft, acting business knowledge, and career strategy. Very few acting coaches are also a casting professional, working actor, and consistently published writer.

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Written by Shaan Sharma