Should I Join AFTRA?

Is it worthwhile to join AFTRA before landing a part on an AFTRA project (such as a soap opera)? Will my union status help with obtaining auditions or will CDs see me even if I am not AFTRA? I am trying to determine if I should invest now or wait for the “must join” situation to arise when I get a part.

The nice thing about AFTRA is that everyone is AFTRA-eligible (so, please, never put that phrase on your resumé) and that you can start working under AFTRA contracts before you are actually a member of the union. Because the decision to join AFTRA really comes down to having enough money to pay the initiation fees and being asked to do enough AFTRA work that you need to be a member of the union, you should wait to join until those two circumstances intersect.

It is important that you not join until you know you will be regularly doing AFTRA work since Rule One states that you may no longer pursue any nonunion work (and that includes work covered by any of the 4-A unions) once you do join.

Since you are allowed to do work under an AFTRA contract before being a member of AFTRA, you should never worry about a casting director having a problem with your nonunion status, prior to a soap opera audition. It is assumed that, if you are pursuing soap work, you have put aside enough money to join AFTRA right away, should you end up scoring a contract role.

The really wonderful thing about AFTRA is that, in most cases, the union will allow you to have your initiation fees deducted from your paychecks until you are fully-paid-up. Therefore, if you have an immediate job offer and have not stashed away enough cash to pay the initiation fee, you may still be able to accept the job and have your first checks go toward that fee.

You may already know that you are free to work your first AFTRA job (earning AFTRA wages) while nonunion, but you should also know that, just as is the case with SAG, you are then free to work under AFTRA contracts as a non-union performer for 30 days. On the 31st day, you become a “must-join” and therefore must join the union should continue to work in its jurisdiction.

For more details on joining AFTRA and the rules and regulations regarding membership, visit

Good luck with your decision!

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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