A while back I read an article about how the Toronto production of In The Heights was non-unionized, and that got me thinking and googling about how unions work in show business.
Every union with which I'm familiar is specific to an employer - you work for the employer, you join the union. But actors' membership in Actors' Equity does not seem to be tied into their employer, probably because the nature of acting is multiple temporary jobs. They join Equity, then any production that hires them has to give them the employment conditions set out in the collective agreement.
Wouldn't that be awesome? Wouldn't life be so much better if other jobs worked that way? You don't have to negotiate your salary half-blind (How much do other people get paid for this job? What's the employer's budget?), you just have to do your job well.
But, as the article about In The Heights describes, there are also some shows that don't use unionized performers at all.
But why does the union still work? Why don't all producers just use non-unionized performers and refuse to use unionized performers? A bit of googling suggests that all the best performers are in the union, but what factors are leading the producers to conclude "The best actors are in the union, therefore we should hire unionized actors" rather than concluding "We'll just hire non-unionized performers until the unionized performers give up. Even the best performers have to eat - they'll give in eventually. And if they don't, how will audience know what they're missing if the best performers aren't working?" Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that it does work, but why does it work?
And how do we recreate this phenomenon in other fields, so people could enjoy the benefits of a union even in today's precarious employment environment?