Union VS Non-Union Voice Over

The controversy on which the better status is to go for as a voice actor has been persisting since the beginning of the business and has intensified in the emergence of online voice acting marketplace.

First off, there is no clear-cut answer to this because both union and non-union voice over present their own advantages and disadvantages. The decision upon which path to take can be influenced by many facets but is ultimately on the voice actor’s hands, taking into anticipation the downside each carries itself with.

As usual, doing a research can help you a lot in weighing pros and cons. Hence we have put together a guide that discusses the pros and cons of both union and non-union voice over job. Let’s define first the basics.

What Is A Voice Over Casting Union?

From the word itself, union in layman’s term is defined as a group of workers joined together in a specific type of organization for the purpose of improving their working conditions as well as to help in promoting the common interests of the group.

But union in the voice over industry is more than just a group of people with a common goal. A voice over union is made up of bureaucracy that charges a membership fee, and there are certain rules that members of the union have to faithfully commit onto in return of the promising reward of higher pay scales, a pension, security and protection, and other benefits an independent worker perhaps cannot achieve.

However, it is noteworthy that a union in any given country only functions within the borders of that country and not beyond them.

Those actors who wish to be part of a union are members of SAG-AFTRA, ACTRA, or Actor’s Equity.

SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) represents Actors and Voice-Over Artists in Film, TV, Video, Web and Radio. Details regarding how to join can be found through the Member Services section of its website.

Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) is a Canadian labour union representing performers in English-language media.

Actor’s Equity represents Actors working in Theatre. Details regarding how to join can be found through the Membership section of its website.

Union Voice Over



You earn higher wage

Pay is commonly the biggest deciding factor on how voice actors select their market. Unionized actors certainly earn significantly higher than non-union actors because of collective bargaining. According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unionized workers had median usual weekly earnings of $1051 in 2018, while those who were not union member had median weekly earnings of $860.

You have to pay dues and initiation fee

With a higher wage, all unionized voice actors are expected to pay union dues which can cost up to a few hundred dollars per year. Dues are 1.5-2.5% of what the union actors earns and are often deducted from  their salary automatically. There are also unions that have initiation fees which must be paid to join the union in the first place.

These fees can reduce a lot of the salary gains of unionized voice actors.

You have peers that got your back

One big benefit of being a member of a union is the protection and security. If you run into trouble, the union will take up arms on your behalf and fight your battles for you because it’s one of your rules that you come as one.

Your autonomy is lessened

While it’s good that you have a strong relationship with your fellow union actors, individuality is lessened and you lose some of your autonomy.  Union decisions are often based on the majority of the opinion. So whether or not you agree with them, you are bound to the employment contract they negotiate. 

You have financial benefits

Since you are part of a union, you have a much better chance to receive essential benefits from their employer. Over 90% of unionized voice actors were entitled to medical benefits, family care, and retirement benefits. Family care is another advantage. Union voice actors had 80% of their benefit costs covered by their employers. Better access to vacation days and sick leaves is also one thing to celebrate about.

All of which are the things non-union voice actors have short access to.

You can no longer accept non union projects

Because you pledge to commit on your union’s policies, accepting side projects is considered conflict of interest. Solidarity is the core value of unions. You stand together with your fellow voice actors so that you can negotiate better working conditions and pay for all of you as a collective.

Unions have formal process for disputes and complaints

Unions make it easier for voice actors to handle disputes and complaints, with other actors and with management. There are formal processes in place, which makes it easier for any actor – regardless of their individual status – to raise grievances. Many unions will also subsidize legal fees for unionized voice actors who want to sue their employers (such as for discrimination or wrongful termination).

Unions have political workplace

Unions look at your seniority more than your experience, so jobs, job transfers and promotions are often offered to those who has been part of the union longer. In reverse, if there are layoffs, the least senior actor is the first one to go even if they are the most qualified.

So if you are new to voice acting, choosing to be unionized from scratch might put you out of your league.

This culture also makes it hard for superstars to advance up. By the same token, under-performers are lucky because they can’t be easily demoted. Cronyism and favoritism can also be observed.

What Is Non-Union Casting?

Non union, on the other hand, is basically the term for voice actors who represent themselves independently. All the money they make goes directly into their pocket from working in their own home studios with low overheads.

While non-union voice talents do not enjoy the benefits of being part of a union, they also have their own version of making the most of their market type.

Non-Union Voice Over



You have no expensive dues and initiation fees

While higher voice over rate is the winning factor of unions, getting rid of steep membership dues and initiation fees can be the ultimate weighing factor that makes voice actors prefer staying as freelancers.

You can enjoy the freedom of having no obligation to pay extra fees and the savings it gives them.

You earn lower wage

Unfortunately, non-union work pay less than union ones because independent voice actors do not pay for memberships that get them access to financial benefits.

You are the CEO and all the staff of your business

This is one big advantage especially to those who prefer working off alone. You are on top of your voice over business and you have the utmost freedom to decide for your wants without any conflict that perhaps may arise in union voice overs. You take charge to all aspects of your business and that eliminates unnecessary time waste and all the earnings go straight into your pocket.

You take ownership of risks

The drawback of being the CEO and all the staff of your voice over job is that nobody got your back in times of adversity. Problems with clients are dealt by you alone and you cannot blame no one for problems and impediments.

Most non-union voice over work are paid after project completion. If you encounter a client who goes missing-in-action in the middle of the project and you have sent them the recordings, it’s your problem to deal with.

Online casting market opened a whole lot of opportunity to freelancers

While non-union voice over work pays cheaper than unionized, the online voice acting industry is a new trend, opening a whole new market of more jobs available for freelancers. You may be getting paid less but with more jobs that you take in, all your earnings add up.

You have no financial benefits

This is a long-term downside of a non-union voice actor and generally, freelancers. This matters a lot because normally, if you are working, you are meant to be entitled for financial benefits in the future.

It’s hard to generalize the pros and cons of both union and non-union voice over work because unions vary in every country and in the local. Also, online marketplace is continuously reshaping the voice acting realm, changing the face of voice over union. It’s undeniable that many voice actors in this generation prefers to be freelancers and making the most of the advantages online casting sites present.

Nevertheless, it’s the safest move to go first with being a non-union voice actor then eventually, you can apply for a union to extend your career opportunities.

Whether you are unionized voice actor or setting your own rate with your freelance voice acting job, we’ll love to hear from you! Voice your opinions in the comments below about how your current marketplace status is helping you prosper in your voice acting career and how you turn the odds into your favor.