The Inconvenient Truth
Posted on 12 Sep 2008 by Todd Tolces
Some of you may know I live in Washington state, just across the river from Portland, Oregon. I truly love it here...and although there might be more voiceover opportunities in larger markets, that landscape, like everything else about voiceovers, is changing. I've been doing voiceovers and voice imaging long enough to know that Portland used to be a union town. The best talents, and I humbly include myself in those ranks, could only be cast for AFTRA scale. The most respected agencies agreeably signed on as signators to the union contract, and the talent was paid fairly and on time. Young up-and-coming talent could be Taft-Hartley'd, paid union scale, and eventually find their way into union membership. Busy talent even qualified for the AFTRA health plan if they worked enough union jobs. That's the way it was when I moved here in 1980 from California. And it pretty much stayed that way until maybe 1995 or 1996. After that, the influx of the net completely reorganized the way talent was made available, marketed, cast, and paid. A flood of non-union voice over talents...some good, some not so good...made it all too easy for agencies to hire outside the union. And the price they were charging for voicing a spot was shameful. $50 for a spot? A crackhouse hooker has more pride than that. The net also made it easy to audition talent in other markets, even in other countries. Local union talent found themselves on the outside looking in. In 2001, I asked my agent how many auditions I was missing because I was union. He said "...about 90%." That was the wakeup call I didn't expect to get. But it came, and I've been resentful toward AFTRA for not being more proactive and not seeing the new technology emerging to completely pull the rug out from under thousands of union talents...many of whom have either since left the union, gone financial core, or stubbornly stick it out and continue to pay dues for nothing. Solidarity, sadly, my ass. I've had a lot of people ask me over the years whether they should join AFTRA or not. 20 years ago, if they were Taft-Hartley'd...they didn't have a choice. You get cast for your first good union job, you got paid scale. The next job you get cast for, you become obliged to join the union. That was a time people wanted to get into AFTRA. It was a union card you were proud to have in your wallet. Today, the union is on the ropes being pummeled by non-union talent, agencies that see no reason to be a signatory, and agents that know union talent isn't getting cast because union talent can't audition.


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