Hollywood’s guilds and unions aren’t directly affected by today’s Supreme Court ruling that held that public-sector unions no longer can force non-members to pay agency fees to cover the cost of collective bargaining, but they’ve got thousands of “agency fee payers” of their own.
In Hollywood labor circles, agency fee payers also are known as financial core non-members, and they pay only that portion of union dues that goes directly toward covering the costs of collective bargaining, contract enforcement and contract administration, but don’t have to pay that portion of dues spent on lobbying or political activities. Some have gone “fi-core” so they can work on non-union shoots, but others have done so for political reasons – they either don’t like unions in general or don’t want to pay for their union’s political activities. They can’t vote in union elections or run for union office, but they can work on non-union shows and cross picket lines during strikes without being sanctioned — though they can still be help up to scorn and ridicule.
“Fi-core means you are quitting SAG-AFTRA and giving up your SAG-AFTRA card and membership,” the union says on its website, noting that fi-core fee-paying non-members “are viewed as scabs or anti-union by SAG-AFTRA members, directors and writers – most of whom also belong to entertainment unions.”
SAG-AFTRA, with an active membership of 160,776, has 3,096 agency fee-payers – nearly 2% of its members – though “agency fee payers are not considered members of the labor organization,” according to SAG-AFTRA’s latest financial report filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.
DOL reports show that the Directors Guild, with 15,262 active members, has 219 agency fee payers, while the Cinematographers Guild, with 8,385 active members, has seven. The WGA West, with 9,787 current members, has 40 agency fee payers, and the WGA East, with 4,517 members in good standing, has 11.
In 2008, following the rancorous 100-day writers strike against the film and TV industry, the WGA East and West released the names of 28 writers who opted for financial core status so they could cross the picket line. In a letter to their members, the presidents of the two guilds rebuked the 28 writers, saying that they “must be held at arm’s length by the rest of us and judged accountable for what they are – strikebreakers whose actions placed everything for which we fought so hard at risk.”