Why SAG-AFTRA Union is Important: The Ballad of Aunt Jesse

Realtime Casting staff member illustrates the importance of SAG/AFTRA voice over work for a voice actor’s career

I would like to introduce you to a very special person, who taught me the importance of Unions.

Her name is Aunt Jesse. (seen below)

SAG AFTRA

This picture reminds me of what made my Aunt Jesse so special to our family as a child. Every Christmas she would sit in this big red chair surrounded by kids (me and my cousins). We were astonished by her silver-white hair and big smile. She held a chaotic event every Christmas Party by handing out crisp, fresh, new dollar bills to all kids in the room. It was the 1970’s, we were kids, and having this fresh dollar made us feel rich. It was hard not to enjoy all of my cousins screaming, laughing, and crowding around her.

As time passed, we all grew up and still my Aunt Jesse’s dollar was something to look forward to, if only to represent a family tradition.

One Christmas, at age 18, she was not able to make her usual visit to hand out dollar bills. We all found out my Aunt Jesse had to be moved into “a home”. (“Senior Living” or “Assisted Living”). It was sad not to see her smile, the silver-white hair, and crisp dollar bills, but we found out she would be just fine.

Why?

She had been moved into something we never heard of called “The Actors Home”. I found out that year she was actually my 2nd aunt, not a direct relative, yet she always came to this Christmas Party. I also found out she was roommates in this home with Imogene Coca.

How she got there

I also found out she was moved into this home because she was a direct relative of Tom Dillon, former president of The Actor’s Fund of America, who passed away in 2005.

I learned all of this the same year I was starting out as an actor. I admit it felt like “klout”. Many of my professors in college were surprised to learn that Tom Dillon was relative. One professor used to constantly stop me to say, “I cannot believe you are related to good ole’ Tom Dillon. You should hear him sing ‘Danny Boy’!”. This instantly made me special, but in my open-hearted, 18-yr old mind, I only recognized these three things:

  • “There is this fund related to a Union somehow”
  • “They are taking care of my Aunt Jesse when she cannot take care of herself”
  • “I should remember this. Unions are important. Sticking together is important.”

This may seem like a simple way of thinking, but look at what my 18-yr old mindset was focused on: I had learned through the actions of a caring aunt and uncle that I would not be young forever. I learned that fresh dollar bills are nice, but Aunt Jesse was just showing us as children that we were indeed special.

What Tom Dillon showed us was the importance of family, union, sticking together, and that at some point in life…we do need services that are focused on taking care of us in the present and the future, when we no longer have the energy or strength to perform.

Voice over work, SAG/AFTRA, and what many have forgotten

In the last 15 years, there have been events that have gone to make those starting in the voice over industry look at Unions with a negative perception. It is a shame, but it is understandable how this happened:

In 2004, when a Union appeared divided, came along voice casting websites that seemed to offer opportunities to those who simply wanted a chance. This made voice casting sites look like the “Champion of the Little People”, which is one of the most popular themes to run a marketing campaign with, but can go horribly wrong under the worst of intentions. It can give power and life to an idea that was self-serving from the beginning.

What people have forgotten:

  • Why Unions were the original “Champions of the Little People”,
  • Why they were needed because people were paid horribly and had to work extra-ordinary amounts of hours just to make ends meet, if they could do this at all.
  • They had no security of a future after their careers.

Does this all sound too relevant and familiar? Through all their “championing of the little voice talent”, non-union voice casting sites can and will shut themselves down on a whim of fancy, if something better comes along. They can change their business model, and if the owner of the business decides it is best to no longer run the website, thousands will be out of work. This imbalance of power of “one wealthy owner vs. thousands of hopefuls who barely make a crisp dollar” has damaged the ability for all voice talent to have sustainable careers. A select group of people, who promised non-union voice over careers would be the future, have failed to deliver on their promise.

We are now seeing in 2014 that Unions are still extremely important, as are websites protecting these Union ideals; not websites existing only for the personal gain of maybe 5 to 10 people.

The Future…Your future

In 20 to 30 years, do you think these websites, their owners or staff, will be your Aunt Jesse or Tom Dillon? Are you willing to risk that for the dollar bill you receive once a year?

Through all the good and bad Unions exist for positive reasons we should never forget; forged almost out of need for protecting the interests of many people from greedy business practices. They have lasted as long as they have because they offer more for a person’s voice over career than any web entrepreneur could imagine.

The Ballad of Aunt Jesse

My Aunt Jesse, with a simple act of kindness, made my family care about her enough to remember her throughout the years. A distant relative, Tom Dillon, showed me the benefits of having others look out for my Aunt Jesse when she was not strong enough to do it.

In the beginning, as well as the end, we do have to factor into our career plans when we will no longer be able to work and what will happen at that point. Thank God my Aunt Jesse had Tom and Tom Dillon had his Union. And the Actor’s Fund had this “home”.

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