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Question of the Month

From the Catherwood Library reference librarians

December 2007

PLEASE NOTE: The Reference Question of the Month is kept current only during the month for which it was written. Archived questions will not be updated, and over time may contain inaccurate information or broken web links. We provide archived questions as a service, since much of the information will remain accurate and of continued interest to the ILR community.

Question: What labor unions are associated with the arts and entertainment industry?

Answer: In their book Under The Stars, Lois S. Gray and Ronald Seeber defined the arts, entertainment and electronic media industry as having four sectors: live performing arts, recordings, motion pictures, and television and radio. (Gray and Seeber, 1996, p. 2). This casts a fairly wide net and includes several groups. The following is a selected list of the major unions active in the arts, entertainment and electronic media industry.

Actors' Equity Association

("AEA" or "Equity"), founded in 1913, is the labor union that represents more than 45,000 Actors and Stage Managers in the United States. Equity seeks to advance, promote and foster the art of live theatre as an essential component of our society. Equity negotiates wages and working conditions and provides a wide range of benefits, including health and pension plans, for its members. Actors' Equity is a member of the AFL-CIO, and is affiliated with FIA, an international organization of performing arts unions. [From website]


The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) is a national labor union representing over 70,000 performers, journalists and other artists working in the entertainment and news media.

AFTRA's scope of representation covers broadcast, public and cable television (news, sports and weather; drama and comedy, soaps, talk and variety shows, documentaries, children's programming, reality and game shows); radio (news, commercials, hosted programs); sound recordings (CDs, singles, Broadway cast albums, audio books); "non-broadcast" and industrial material as well as Internet and digital programming.

Founded in 1936 as an organization of solo musical artists working to eliminate unfair practices in the musical profession, AGMA now represents not only soloists, but all performers in the opera, dance, oratorio, concert and recital fields. [From website]

American Guild of Musical Artists

AGMA was founded in 1936 to represent solo artists. They now represent opera singers, ballet and other dancers, opera directors, backstage production personnel at opera and dance companies, and figure skaters.  

American Federation of Musicians

The American Federation of Musicians was founded in 1896 and represents the interests of all professional musicians in the United States and Canada.  

The largest local in AFM is Local 802 which covers in New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York. Members include orchestral musicians, Broadway pit musicians, freelance musicians in New York and recording musicians, to name but a few of the membership.

ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers)

ASCAP is a membership association of more than 300,000 U.S. composers, songwriters, lyricists, and music publishers of every kind of music. Through agreements with affiliated international societies, ASCAP also represents hundreds of thousands of music creators worldwide.
ASCAP protects the rights of its members by licensing and distributing royalties for the non-dramatic public performances of their copyrighted works. ASCAP's licensees encompass all who want to perform copyrighted music publicly. [From website]

Directors Guild of America

The Directors Guild of America represents more than 12,000 members working in U.S. cities and abroad. Their creative work is represented in theatrical, industrial, educational and documentary films and television, as well as, videos and commercials. [From website]

IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada)

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada was originally chartered by the American Federation of Labor as the National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in 1893. Our name has evolved over the course of 113 years of geographic and craft expansion as well as technological advancement. The current title, adopted in 1995, more accurately reflects the full scope of our activities in the entertainment industry. [From website]

IATSE represents technicians, artisans and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including live theatre, film and television production, and trade shows. Local One is one the most well known locals and includes stagehands who work on Broadway shows, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Center and the Metropolitan Opera, to name but a few venues.

National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABETCWA)

The National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians represents workers employed in the broadcasting, distributing, telecasting, recording, cable, video, sound recording and related industries in North America. Affiliated with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), AFL-CIO.

Screen Actors Guild

Screen Actors Guild is the nation's largest labor union representing working actors. Established in 1933, SAG has a rich history in the American labor movement, from standing up to studios to break long-term engagement contracts in the 1940s to fighting for artists' rights amid the digital revolution sweeping the entertainment industry in the 21st century. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents nearly 120,000 working actors in film, television, industrials, commercials, video games, music videos and other new media. The Guild exists to enhance actors' working conditions, compensation and benefits and to be a powerful, unified voice on behalf of artists' rights. Headquartered in Los Angeles, SAG is a proud affiliate of the AFL-CIO. [From website]

SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers)

The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, is the leading technical society for the motion imaging industry.

SMPTE members are spread throughout 61 countries worldwide. As well, over 250 Sustaining (Corporate) Members belong to SMPTE, allowing networking and contacts to occur on a larger scale. Touching on every discipline, our members include engineers, technical directors, cameramen, editors, technicians, manufacturers, designers, educators, consultants and field users in networking, compression, encryption and more.

SMPTE was founded in 1916 to advance theory and development in the motion imaging field. Today, SMPTE publishes ANSI-approved Standards, Recommended Practices, and Engineering Guidelines, along with the highly regarded SMPTE Journal and its peer-reviewed technical papers. [From website]

ssdc (the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers)

The Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers is a national independent labor union representing members throughout the United States and abroad. SSDC has jurisdiction over the employment of Directors and Choreographers working in the following areas:

  • Broadway and National tours
  • Off-Broadway
  • Off-Off-Broadway (Association of Non-Profit Theatre Companies, New York City - ANTC)
  • Resident Theatre (League of Resident Theatres - LORT)
  • Resident summer stock companies (Council of Resident Stock Theatres - CORST)
  • Summer stock and civic light opera (Council of Stock Theatres - COST)
  • Dinner Theatre (Dinner Theatre Agreement- DTA)
  • Regional Music Theatre (RMT)
  • Outdoor musical stock (OMS)
  • Non-Equity tours – Troika [From website]
Writers Guild of America, East / Writers Guild of America, West

Since 1954, the Writers Guild of America, East and Writers Guild of America, west have negotiated and administered minimum basic agreements with major film producers and networks and stations, covering theatrical and television films, broadcast and cable television, documentary film and radio, public and commercial television. In recent years, the Guilds have expanded their coverage of radio and television staff employees, the latter group mostly in the news and documentary areas, including news writers and others at ABC and CBS and a number of major individual stations. Currently the Guilds administer 36 separate agreements.

Writers Guild of America, East representing writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable and new technologies industries who live east of the Mississippi River. Writers Guild of America, West represents writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable and new technologies industries who live west of the Mississippi River.

— Researched by Debra Lamb-Deans