With the recent union dispute between actor unions, it is a good time to ask the question: unions – to join or not to join? The unions: SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Arts) and AEA (Actors’ Equity Association). Historically, SAG-AFTRA has jurisdiction over film, TV, radio and multimedia including the Internet. AEA, often referred to as ‘Equity,” covers live performance such as theatre. We, as actors, are very fortunate these unions exist. They have fought hard to increase our pay, improve working conditions and provide benefits such as health insurance and pension. They also host many workshops, panels and classes to help us improve our craft and function more effectively within the business of the entertainment industry. That being said, no one was born with a union card in their hand and many 20-something actors are non-union. With the explosion of independent film, and independent work in general, there’s a lot of non-union work out there. In a non-union setting, actors can learn a lot about being on a film or TV set or experience the commitment and dedication of being in a play. There is a lot of very reputable non-union work available, but because there is no union governing these opportunities, there are also many projects where the actor is not well taken care of during production. The schedule can be crazy and/or disorganized, and you may never get paid. Some projects never even get made. Do your homework before jumping into an acting job. Your peers or an agent/manager can help you navigate these murky waters on a project-to-project basis. Find out what other actors know about a project you are interested in. Research a production company online or through social media. If it feels sketchy, walk away. There will be other better projects. If you want to be a professional actor, eventually you will need to join the unions. In the meantime, take as much work as you can. Every job is a learning experience and you never know who you’ll meet that might lead to your next project.