Local 600: To join or not to join?

I've been debating joining the union for quite some time now, but I've been waiting it out until absolutely necessary. I've only missed out on a job once or twice that I know of, but I was really hoping to get grandfathered in at some point to avoid paying the massive initiation fee.

Are you a member of the union? Do you feel it was worth joining? Why/why not? Did you pay the initiation or did you get grandfathered in? What do you think are the best benefits to joining or not?

Comments

  • Hi Mike. What position are you looking to join as? What market are you in? If you're in NY or L.A., I would say the benefits are many. If you work in a smaller market, there is still good reason to join, but the Union opportunities need to be frequent enough to justify the dues.

  • I was in LA for 8 years but am now in the Sacramento market despite never actually working there. I've been traveling most of the year the last 4-5 years or so.

  • If most of your work is coming on non-union jobs, I'd say it's not worth joining. Missing 1-2 jobs over the course of an 8 year career isn't anything to get concerned about. I joined about 3 years ago now, and I only joined because a show I was on flipped in season one, Local 600 was not willing to grandfather us in, and I paid the initiation fee to work on season 2-3 of the show. Since then, I've been lucky enough to regularly on 2 other union shows in my local market, so it seems justified (even with the initiation fee). But again, unless you're finding you're getting calls more frequently for union shows and aren't able to take them, I'd say you're okay not joining right now.

  • Mike, so glad you asked this question as I've been pondering the exact same thing for the Chicago market. Great responses from everyone, too, Cheers

  • I am also pondering the same question in the Chicago market for make-up/hair. Thank you for asking this question.

  • As Glen posts above, it's kind of a case by case situation. If you are young and stating out in the Camera Dept- take the test, work to get in as an AC, it's opportunity that was offered to me in the mid 90's and I wish I had taken it. This is not to say you can't survive outside of it, but it's a good fraternity to be in.

    Been struggling with this now as a DP / Op for over 10 years.
    I have taken my Contract Services Safety Classes and I am currently on the Industry Experience Roster. However, starting a family and the high cost of living in LA, I cannot afford to give the Local 600 the $9000 (!) they required as an entrance fee as an Cam Operator, even in installments + dues. As a DP (with over 20 yrs experience) I largely shoot Reality, Docs, Indie Features (under $1Mil US) and the occasional Corp project. I also edit on the side. In the past, when I spoke to 600 reps and they echoed that unless I was getting called actively for Union Op or DP jobs it probably didn't make sense to join (at least not as DP) as much as they would love to have me (and my money). So I'm torn, hoping to land an OP gig on something that runs long enough to warrant the high cost of entrance. I have the utmost respect for my Union colleagues and would like to be in that "club", but I feel like there are needless hoops to jump through (and continue to jump through) with no more real guarantee of stability or consistency than Non-Union. Your mileage may vary.

  • Really enjoyed reading these responses. I am very green, and have a few friends in the 600 who are pushing me towards it. The advantage I have is that i'm in Atlanta and it seems to be on the incline. There is somewhat of a "shortage" of local 600 members here.

  • As mentioned before, there are a lot of things to consider when joining the Union. Ultimately you need to be in a position to be able to work on Union productions before it becomes of any benefit. I know a few people that just didn't have the experience, or live in an area with enough Union work to make it worth the effort. Yes they make enough on Union productions to cover the initiation installments + Union dues, but they really only break even. I worked in the Central region for a number of years primarily in NC, SC and GA. Yes there were Union jobs, but I didn't have enough experience or the connections to get the work. I joined the Union in Atlanta because a fellow DIT friend of mine needed someone to take over the 2nd half of a production for him. The Union required a $3000 down payment and the remaining $5500 broken into 48 monthly payments. I'm so glad I joined. After working that television series, I was then asked by the UPM to work a Union feature. I had a few months of down time and non-union pilots, but I then landed a network television series for 6 months and I'm now on a feature. The UPM from the last series I worked on has also asked me back for season 3. The point I'm getting at is that as long as you have a connection to get some work at first and you aren't a problem employee, then the work will snowball. Between my hourly rate and equipment rental, I made 3 times more than I have in even my best year on non-Union work and I only worked 8 months out of the year. The Union is there to make sure you get paid a fair wage, make sure you aren't over worked, look out for your safety on set and they give you quality health insurance and a pension plan. If you can keep enough hours, the insurance plan alone makes it worth joining the Union. Just keep in mind that it is not the Unions job to find you work. A lead or two may come from being a part of the Union, but they will not actively seek out work for you. Also, I'm not sure if you currently rent any gear to productions, but the nice thing about a Union production is that you usually have UPM's that know the cost of doing business and you more times than not will end up with a fair rate for your gear. When I was doing non-Union work it was not uncommon for me to get $500 a week for my entire cart. I'm able to charge that daily on Union productions and it's the exact same gear. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

  • Torrey Rogers - what position do you work in? I left Atlanta 2 years ago because of how hard it was to get work in Atlanta, and there was by no means a shortage of work. Yes there are quite a few productions going on in Atlanta, but if you are a DP, Operator, DIT or 1st AC, it can be challenging to get on the bigger Union productions. Most of the producers are from LA and bring DP's from LA as well. The DP's in turn bring their camera crew to fill the key positions. They will use locals to fill B camera positions and 2nd AC and loader positions. I'm not trying to turn you away from joining the Union, quite the opposite. I just want to make sure you are aware that moving up the ladder in Atlanta is incredibly tough. If you can get in as a loader or 2nd AC then take the opportunity to build your resume and then start looking at NYC or LA when the time comes to move up the camera ladder

  • I'm a member of Local 600 here in Chicago.

    I would say join if you know a lot of people who do the hiring on union jobs. I started out in the reality tv world (non-union) and slowly made my way into the union world and it is 100x better. Better pay, better benefits, and better shows.

    It is expensive to join. But think about the kind of work you want to do, if you can get that work at this point in your career, and where you want to end up in your career.

  • @Chandler Tucker said:
    Torrey Rogers - what position do you work in? I left Atlanta 2 years ago because of how hard it was to get work in Atlanta, and there was by no means a shortage of work. Yes there are quite a few productions going on in Atlanta, but if you are a DP, Operator, DIT or 1st AC, it can be challenging to get on the bigger Union productions. Most of the producers are from LA and bring DP's from LA as well. The DP's in turn bring their camera crew to fill the key positions. They will use locals to fill B camera positions and 2nd AC and loader positions. I'm not trying to turn you away from joining the Union, quite the opposite. I just want to make sure you are aware that moving up the ladder in Atlanta is incredibly tough. If you can get in as a loader or 2nd AC then take the opportunity to build your resume and then start looking at NYC or LA when the time comes to move up the camera ladder

    Hey Chandler, AC is what I am currently working as. I agree it is very tough, and many crews are bringing in their buddies from LA and NY. I just want to stand my ground here and network as much as I can and learn from the few that are here. It's been super challenging so far but I am very excited about the future of Atlanta's union scene

  • Lots of great info on here! For those of you in the union, what was the transition like going from non union to union shows? I get that it does not make sense to join unless you are getting the calls, but how did you get into the union network? A few people I work with have been on shows that flip, and that seems to be the most common. But if union guys call other union guys, how did you break into that group and start getting calls?

  • The transition for me was pretty smooth, but I had been networking for years and had union contacts before joining. I also lived in markets where there were lots of union work. I had 3 years of non union DIT work that I was able to use to show the union I was capable of handling union sized productions.

    For those who haven't been in the industry as long, I suggest going the loader route. You can work 30 days as a union loader without actually belonging to the union. You then use that as leverage to join as well as use that time to network with union camera members. Of course you will need to be in an area that has enough work that they are willing to take on loaders that don't have experience.

  • @Glen Mordeci said:
    In order to get Health Insurance through the Union you need to work 350 hrs in a 6 month period. This means you need to DP or Operate an Episodic doing your 70 to 80 hour weeks for the duration of the show or at least get on a Feature for a 3 to 4 month run.

    Don't know where you got the healthcare hours from but that's not correct.

    in order to qualify for health care you have to work 600 hours in 6 months. Then you need to work 400 hours every 6 months to keep your health care and you can bank 450

  • @Mike Mollica said:
    I've been debating joining the union for quite some time now, but I've been waiting it out until absolutely necessary. I've only missed out on a job once or twice that I know of, but I was really hoping to get grandfathered in at some point to avoid paying the massive initiation fee.

    Are you a member of the union? Do you feel it was worth joining? Why/why not? Did you pay the initiation or did you get grandfathered in? What do you think are the best benefits to joining or not?

    The chance of getting "Grandfathered" in are slim at best.

    When it comes to getting into the union you have to ask yourself are you missing out on work not being in the union? will you do most of your work under a union contract? if the answer is no then the union is not for you.

    IIRC an Operators card is $8500 initiation, ~$250/quarter and 1% of each paychecks gross. Unless you have a specific talent like being a Steadicam operator or being a name crew member you will get union scale on a gig, very rarely will you get overscale. and right now scale is from the mid $20/hr (on a tier contract) to $65/hr on a feature.

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