Interestingly enough, someone recently commented on my Anti-Union post, the next in my retrospective series. They asked what I thought of Actor's Equity.
I remember getting my AFTRA card, my SAG card, and my Equity card, and what a huge deal it was each time. They were milestones of achievements.
As it turned out, the show that earned me my Equity card was also the last one for which I got paid for live theatre. Even then, it only paid enough for my cost of living during the run. The very next week, I needed another form of income.
As I've said before, the creation of unions was valuable and important at the time it occurred. Just like with any other group of people that had to sacrifice for the greater good, I remain grateful for the people that helped make that happen.
Someone told me that when it comes to unions like Equity and SAG, "union" seems to be a misnomer. It's incredibly difficult to earn your way into this elite group, and is better designed to keep people out than to let people in. You have to land a job, but of course, it's rare to even get an audition for a union job without being union! The union only brings together about 1% of actors.
Having said that, I do believe that Actor's Equity and even SAG/AFTRA offer better benefits to its members than many other unions out there. I loved the SAG/AFTRA credit union, and that Equity card was the golden ticket into an easier life on the cattle call line. I never made enough from any of them to earn health benefits, but I will have a teeny tiny pension one day.
While I do have my issues with the actors' unions, I would say that in comparison to many other unions, they support their members a lot more. There is one particular office workers' union where every member I know (a) is forced to be a member in order to keep their current employment, (b) has dues going up every year while their benefits decrease every year, and (c) has had bad experiences with those who work for the union when it comes to customer/member service. I have heard those kinds of stories for other types of unions as well.
As I've said before, I think there are many laws on the books (especially here in CA) to protect workers, but sadly, many workers aren't protected from union leadership that isn't running things in the best interest of its workers, nor do they have the right to withdraw from a union and keep their job.
I am no longer a member of any union. I love my job, I love my boss and colleagues, my hours, and I am treated fairly and respectfully. And I love the freedom to act for fun in community theatre. Sometimes, there can be great benefits in being union-free.