“Hollywood” is a union town. There are unions for almost all workers on a set and in the theatre, including the director, writers, crew, actors and even casting directors. Most of these organizations are named “guilds” because they don’t find work for their members as many unions do, but for all intents and purposes, they are a union.
Children represent a unique population. Acting is the only profession where children are union members, and many professional children are members of at least two unions.
Unions provide important protections to child actors. They are known for “collective bargaining” which means that actors negotiate with producers as a group to establish minimum wages, health insurance, and retirement pensions. For children specifically, they regulate work hours, provide for on-set safety, require academic education on set, among other things. http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Criticism-Ideology/Guilds-and-Unions.html
In the US, unionism is governed by state law. There are “union states” which include the entertainment hubs of New York and California, and there are “right to work states”. In union states, workers are forced to pay the union dues in order to continue to work, either through membership or as a dues paying non-member (aka Financial Core). In “right-to-work” states, actors may choose to join the union, but can choose not to---they can work union and non-union jobs without ever joining as long as they stay within that state. You can read more about this here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right-to-work_law
Despite the many benefits, most parents will find that joining a union is a crossroads of sorts. It is the point when an amateur actor becomes a professional. There are many considerations including large initiation dues and the banning of non-union work from that point forward. We suggest you make a knowledgeable, well-timed decision. Join when your child is sure they want to make that commitment to a professional career.
Below is a list of unions for professional performers, including a PDF about joining the union, specific to children. Further down the page, you will find non-profit organizations (often related to a union) that provide additional services to young performers.
SAG Members of the Screen Actors Guild have access to information and tools available to manage their union business. Information on the website includes membership requirements, fees, and other information specific to young performers.
SAG Pension & Health The SAG Pension and Health organization provides comprehensive information for participants and employers.
AFTRA The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is the union that has been associated with voice-over work, but now holds jurisdiction for many televised shows as well. For more information about AFTRA, including a listing of the shows they are contracted with, see their website.
The American Guild of Variety Artists represents performers in such venues as circuses, casino shows, stand-up comedy clubs, and amusement parks (Disneyland and Universal Studios, for instance). They also represent performers at Radio City Music Hall, including the kid-heavy Christmas Spectacular, and some shows on and off Broadway.
The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists is a Canadian national organization comparable to SAG in the states. ACTRA has jurisdiction over all English language production, no matter what the method of distribution. This includes commercials, television and film, voiceover, etc. Theatre in Canada is handled by Canadian Actor’s Equity Association (CAEA).
Looking Ahead, a program of the Actors Fund, supports young performers between the ages of 9 and 18 in developing the values, skills and confidence they need to make successful transitions to fulfilling adult lives. Services include parent and child counseling, educational (college) counseling, group activites, community service opportunities, and educational workshops.
The Actor's Fund
The Actors Fund is a nonprofit, national human services organization that helps entertainment and performing arts professionals in theater, film, music, opera, television and dance through a broad spectrum of social, health, employment, and housing programs that address their essential and critical needs.
The SAG Foundation
The SAG Foundation is the charitable arm of the Screen Actors Guild. They sponsor special events called Conversations for Kids. Those events will be highlighted on the website as they are announced.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION REGARDING THE IMPENDING VOTE FOR THE MERGER OF SAG AND AFTRA
Please visit out page of information related to the 2012 merger proposal: here