Am I a Union Member? Union FAQs

by Carrie

You may have questions if you’ve started working at a venue with a contract that is negotiated by a union. The best sources for answers about the union can often be the Members at the venue. Your Union Steward or other leaders in the union may introduce themselves and explain their roles with the union and offer to answer any questions that you may have. Below are answers to some common questions people may have when they begin working under a union contract.

Does working under a union contract make a worker a union member?

No, working under a contract does not make a worker a union member.  Workers can apply for membership. Becoming a member requires completing an application, paying membership and processing fees, a vote of approval from the current membership, approval of the application by the IATSE International office in New York, an interview with the Executive Board, and finally being sworn in at a union meeting.

The union takes out 4%, are those dues?

No, only Members pay dues. The 4% is an assessment that is charged to all workers who work under an IATSE negotiated contract.  That 4% covers the cost of negotiating and maintaining the contract, and representing workers.  Dues are a separate fee paid by Members.  Dues cover the costs of the parent organizations like the IATSE International and the AFL-CIO but don’t cover any costs of IATSE Local 13.

How will I know what the contract says?

Your Union Steward will be able to provide you with a copy of the contract. In some venues the contracts may be posted on a union bulletin board.

What if the employer or another worker breaks one of the rules in the contract? Will the union still help me if I am not a member?

Yes, all workers covered by the contract are protected. If you have a concern or question about your working conditions (hours, pay, breaks, meal penalty, seniority) it is important to ask your Union Steward. A steward, crew chief, or other union representative will be able to help you proceed if the employer has broken one of the rules in the contract.  In the event that another worker is violating the contract, the union can help hold the employer accountable for a safe and respectful workplace.

If the union protects me whether I support it financially or not, why should I join?

You already support the union through your work assessments (4%) but if you want to have a voice in your wages and working conditions, join the union. Becoming a member gives a union strength. Members have the ability to vote on contracts that affect the working conditions in the venues where they work.  Bargaining unit workers who aren’t union members can have their voices heard participating in contract discussions and in an advisory vote on the contract at the venue level, though only the membership, at a union meeting, can actually approve/accept the management offer. The more people participate in the process, the more voices get heard and the better a contract can reflect the conditions of all the people working under that contract.

Do I need to become a member?

Deciding to become a member is up to each individual. Some people chose to become members as soon as it is financially feasible for them, others wait until they are established with a full time position or access to a certain amount of work. 

Full time positions at venues with union representation will often list in the job description that becoming an IATSE member is a requirement. This is known as a security clause. These clauses require that workers become members once they have worked a certain number of hours in a union position in a venue. Also, workers who tour may be required to become union members as part of the contract.  

I only want to work at one venue and not get access to any other work through the union, do I still need to sign up for the referral call list?

Some venues hire people directly and maintain their own call lists. Other venues and employers don’t maintain their own call lists and contact the union to provide workers. When the union dispatches workers, they are offered work based on their position on the union’s call list; seniority on that list is based on all work they do under union contract. If you aren’t on the referral call list, your work at your one venue is still tracked for seniority on the union’s list but you won’t gain seniority until you sign up for the referral call list. If you only want to work at your one venue, you can simply decline calls at other venues. You can also ask the union to place you on a “do not call” list, so while you accumulate seniority, you don’t actually get offered calls. It’s a good idea to sign up for the referral call list right away. Then, if you later decide to work at other venues, your call list position from past work kicks in. 

If I join the union, will I get benefits like health insurance?

Joining the union will not give you health insurance. The union negotiates for benefits for its workers and workers don’t need to join the union to access these benefits. For full time workers at venues, the union usually negotiates health insurance and retirement offered by the employer. Over-hire workers at venues and workers taking calls through the union’s referral call system have a percentage of wages contributed to the IATSE National Benefits Fund and a retirement plan. Once a certain threshold amount has been contributed to these benefit funds, the worker will be notified that they qualify for that benefit and given instructions on how to access that benefit.  These plans are designed to give people working in the arts and entertainment industry access to health insurance.

I’m thinking of joining the union, but I still want to work for non-union employers. Will the union stop me from working for non-union employers?

Unlike Actor’s Equity, the IATSE will not prevent you from working at a non-union venue. The union might ask you what non-union venues you work at so that union organizers can get an idea of places where workers might be interested about organizing.

I work in a non-union venue and want to try to organize the workers at that venue to improve working conditions. Do I need to be a union member to organize my workplace?

No, anyone can begin the work of organizing their workplace, reaching out to the IATSE helps connect workers looking to organize with experienced organizers who can guide them through the process. Sometimes, when a venue is organized, the union may waive the initiation fees for the workers to become members.

I have worked in a union venue and would like to access more work opportunities. Where can I find out more?

To learn more, visit iatse13.org, or visit IATSE.net to find the local that represents workers in your area.

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