Why SAG-AFTRA is Important: History Blog

Revisiting the history behind why SAG-AFTRA, or any labor union, is important…because voice overs is hard work

If you talk to a 21st-Century business owner or entrepreneur they may throw at you this statement:

“You can’t live in the past! Live in the present! History is history!”

To a degree, they are correct: You do need to let go of grief, but that does not mean you should forget what has happened in the past. Yet, holding onto grief prevents moving forward.

However, at times this can be taken out of context. It is true that times change, but human nature never fails to repeat itself, especially if you have not learned from it. The same holds true for business owners and labor Unions, so today we wanted to blog about:

Why SAG-AFTRA is Important: A History Blog


I am going to be referring to this blog source from SAG-AFTRA, as well as, lessons from history on labor Unions’ issues with businesses and how people often forget why they did something in the first place. Again, anyone who says, “Forget about the past!” is asking you to forget a key point of education or experience. They are asking you to forget the past because it serves their business; not you.

How SAG was Founded…

The year is 1933 and you deal with the following:

  • Working with unrestricted hours
  • No required meal breaks
  • Working with contracts for years that you cannot break and are may be forced to renew
  • A producer tells you who to marry and what your morals must be
  • A producer decides for you what your political stance will be

And does any of this (almost) sound familiar?

The year is 2014 and you deal with:

home studio

  • Wake up at anytime to do work
  • Eyes glued to a website hoping to get the next voice over job that comes in
  • You live and sometimes sleep in your home studio.
  • You miss work…you miss money.
  • You work on short-term contracts that offer no financial security
  • You are forced to marry to a website’s software (haha!)
  • The website romanticizes the above behavior of voice overs being a life-style
  • Yet, you work for day-laborer wages, and if you complain you are told, “You must be doing something wrong.”

Think of the most important common threads:

  • Everyone is human.
  • You need your voice (health) to continue doing business.
  • You need financial security for those times that we cannot work or experience hardships that may keep us from working for a period of time.

Business tools change…not people

This is a simple reality: Business owners want to make money. This is understood. We all do. They hope you can help make it for them. Their interests are often different from the employees. They will protect their business, before they protect the employee. It simply makes sense. But…

This is where the “fairness train” derails….Business owners can, and do, run a business with greedy intentions. We know this now more than ever before. Non-union casting websites may offer “opportunity”, but definitely not “security”. The last ten years have proven that these websites were not “saviors” as believed in 2004. They are businesses.

This is fine, but it does illustrate why the importance of Unions has not gone away.

The Importance of Labor Unions

Did you know that New York City, only in the last week, passed a Paid Sick Leave Bill? This means that for years and years in New York City, if you were sick for a period of time, the business owner could fire you. The business owners who cry, “That is not fair! I started my business! I should be able to do what I want!”, often neglect to mention that they hired people to help run that business, and that they are human or have lives of their own.

But this is something every capitalist market deals with…and THAT is the importance of labor unions. They are in place to protect people working for a business from greedy, unhealthy business practices. They regulate to protect because simply put…A system of rules put in place without regulation is a system of rules dictated by the savage few.

The importance of SAG-AFTRA takes into account that people will not always be working, and that at some point, they will not be able to work anymore. “In a world”, where voice actors are not guaranteed work, and exist in the business of inventing “want”, they need to be protected now and in the future.


In the last 20 years, the arguments that have come from those I have seen “against unions” or “against SAG-AFTRA” would be the following:

  • “It’s a class system.”
  • “They do not want me to get work, unless it helps them!”
  • “It’s too dysfunctional.”
  • “It does nothing for me.”
  • “I make my money. I want to keep it.”
  • “It’s a cut-throat business. If you cannot handle it, get out.”
  • “I feel like I can work more as a non-union talent.”

All this goes to prove is that making it work will take work, and it is important to everyone that wants a career in this industry, that it succeeds. Anything really good in this world, takes work, debate, understanding others, the absence of greed, and an abundance of courage. It also takes the behavior of “seeing what you can do for the greater good, and not just yourself.” (Yes…Ask not what a Union can do for you, ask what you can do for your Union)

We all need support at some point in our lives, especially if you are in a tough business like voice overs. The support should come from your colleagues because the history of human nature has proven that business owners have only their profit interests in mind. You may come across a great business owner, who treats people well and understands Unions, but chances are these business owners were raised by parents who grew up in Unions to begin with, and had these Unions to take care of their family.

Still wondering why they are important? 1933 vs. 2014

  • The average annual salary in 1933 was $1500
  • On the average non-union casting site in 2014, you would need to book 10 voice over jobs a year just to make $1500.

Do you know what 10 SAG-AFTRA voice over jobs a year would make you? Do you know what it would do for your family?

One thing it will definitely do is make you NOT feel like your pay is “Depression Era”. But of course, the 2014 business owner wants you to forget about the past, as they politely repeat the mistakes of the 20th-century.

At least voice over mics were cheaper in 1933!

voice over


Just remember...

There is no “them vs. us”. There is only working together to find a solution that works for everyone.

ps- This topic never gets old. Why do you think that is?

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