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The VO Boss podcast blends business advice with inspiration & motivation for today's voice talent. Each week, host Anne Ganguzza shares guest interviews + voice over industry insights to help you grow your business and stay focused on what matters...

Jun 14, 2022

To join or not to join, that is the question. Anne & Pilar delve deep into how union & non-union work has shaped their careers. They discuss the biz before SAG and AFTRA merged, jobs in a right-to-work state, and changes in work accessibility due to tech advances & the pandemic. Joining the union is a very personal choice, and depends on where you live and what genres you wish to work in. Learn from Pilar as she shares her journey to joining the union + Anne who explains her reasons for remaining non-union so you can make the best choice for you like a #VOBOSS.

>> It’s time to take your business to the next level, the BOSS level! These are the premiere Business Owner Strategies and Successes being utilized by the industry’s top talent today. Rock your business like a BOSS, a VO BOSS! Now let’s welcome your host, Anne Ganguzza.

Pilar: Hola, BOSS Voces. Bienvenidos al podcast con Anne Ganguzza y Pilar Uribe.

Anne: Hey everyone. Welcome to the VO BOSS podcast. I'm your host, Anne Ganguzza, and I am so excited to be back again with my very special guest cohost Pilar Uribe. Hey Pilar. How are you today?

PIlar: I am doing great, Anne. How are you?

Anne: I'm doing awesome this beautiful morning. Hey, I got a question for you. I have a lot of students that ask me about the union and should they be part of the union and when is the time for them to join the union. And I also have another student who's going to be moving to California, and they're asking these questions about the union. So I think it would be a great time to talk about it with you, because I know that you are a union member, and I like to kind of do a here's the union 101 kind of class in the podcast today. So I know there's a lot of people out there that have questions. And tell me a bit about how you joined the union.

Pilar: Well, I have a long history with the union. I started out actually in New York because I got extra work on "One Life to Live" back when there were a lot of soap operas. And basically the day that I walked into the area where they -- the holding room, where you have all the extras sit, this very nice person, stuck out her hand and said, hi, I'm so-and-so, a member of AFTRA, the local representative. And I thought, oh, this is interesting. So literally I had not stepped foot on a soundstage in New York when there was somebody already basically saying to me, this is an offer you can't refuse. And so, yeah, because it's like, you don't really have a choice. You have to become a member of the union.

Anne: You gotta join here.

Pilar: Yeah, exactly. So I did, I joined happily, and I actually did a lot of extra work with the different soap operas in New York. And then when I went to Colombia, they don't have unions down there. They didn't. Now they are starting to, they do have something together.

Anne: Let me just back up. You were in New York at what time? What year was it that you joined the union in New York?

Pilar: Oh gosh, this was the 90s.

Anne: Okay.

Pilar: This was in the nineties. And this is when, because AFTRA is not -- everybody thinks of AFTRA as just radio, but also --

Anne: Yeah, that's what I remember.

Pilar: Yeah. AFTRA's also TV.

Anne: But not all TV though, right?

Pilar: But not all TV. Exactly.

Anne: Okay.

Pilar: I want to say that AFTRA might just be daytime TV or it was daytime TV or maybe it was --

Anne: Plus radio,

Pilar: -- like game shows and stuff like that. Yeah.

Anne: Yeah. Because when I got into the industry, you know, it was all AFTRA. There was no SAG. There was all AFTRA for voice actors, that that's what you were supposed to join. And then they merged at some point.

Pilar: Exactly. Exactly. And actually AFTRA stands for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Anne: Yes. Yes.

Pilar: So that tells you right there, that it was specifically for some forms of television. I'm not really sure back then what the distinction was, but SAG and AFTRA were completely separate unions.

Anne: So you were in New York and you were an AFTRA member in the 90s, and then you went to Colombia. And you were on, you were on television in Colombia, but there's. yeah, no unions.

Pilar: No unions, but I kept my AFTRA card anyway, because I thought you never know. And dues were very, very low. So I just, I kept it, I kept it up and then I came back to --

Anne: Good thinking.

Pilar: Yeah. Well, yeah. Thank goodness. Yes. Yes.

Anne: 'Cause you were in Colombia for, what, eight years, right?

Pilar: Nine years, nine years.

Anne: So a while. So I like that manifestation that you never know, right, when you're going to need that card again or that status. Okay. Cool. All right.

Pilar: And the dues back then were very, you know, they were very reasonable, so it wasn't, it wasn't a big deal. So I come back to Miami because I decide I want to be halfway between Bogota and New York.

Anne: And that was in the 2000s, right?

Pilar: That was in the 2000s, early 2000s. And then I discovered that Miami is a right to work state.

Anne: So let's talk about that. Let's define that first. What is a right to work state?

Pilar: Okay. So the actual definition of a right to work state is that states have the authority to determine whether workers can be required to join a labor union, to get and keep a job. So labor unions still operate in those states, but workers, they can't be forced to become members as a requirement of their job, which they do have to be, let's say, in New York or Los Angeles, if you want to work on a soundstage.

Anne: Right, you have to be in the --

Pilar: You have to be a member of the union. Yeah. And they're very strict with that. And I remember when I worked in, in television in the times that I did extra work, it was so interesting to be on the soundstage. And for example, the coordinator, the guy who yells 5, 4, 3, 2, you know, 1, one time, the director was already in the booth and the actors were on stage, and the guy went to move the plate, and he was not allowed to, because a member of the prop union had to come over and move the plate two inches forward. They're very, very strict about that. And for good reason, you know, because that's -- the unions are there to protect the workers.

Anne: Exactly.

Pilar: And what each person's job is. So when I got to Miami, I started auditioning and I started getting non-union jobs. And I was happy with that. And every, I remember union actors complains saying once they became union, then there weren't as many possibilities.

Anne: Because there was other people vying for the same roles, right?

Pilar: Yes, exactly. And there was so much competition. And so non-union actor could vie for a union job. Whereas in other states like California, Los Angeles --

Anne: You had to be union.

Pilar: You had to be union. So I kept booking work and you know, I was, I was fine with that. And this, I was booking on camera work at that time.

Anne: Did people try to convince you to join the union? Were you offered?

Pilar: No, because Florida is a little bit like the wild west, back then it was. And so there was nobody compelling, no -- there was nobody showing up at the door saying, you gotta, you gotta join. No, not like, not like in New York.

Anne: Right.

Pilar: And so one day I got a call from my agent and she said, you booked a SAG commercial. And I thought, oh, okay, this is cool. And it's just, it's so interesting. The world of non-union versus union. 'Cause I did a ton of extra work in New York on films. And so I think I mentioned that before, like I basically touched Arnold Schwartzenegger's sleeve. And then one time I was in this Michael J. Fox film, and we were in a theater, we -- no, it was just, uh, just hoards of non-union extras sitting in the seats, and then there's this altercation. And then James Woods comes and I don't know what he does. And literally he had a cowboy boot on, I'll never forget it. And he stepped on my foot. And so we did like four takes, and every time he went in, he stepped exactly on my foot. I mean, he, like, my foot was his mark, so wild. And so I've actually, it's so funny. 'Cause I looked at that, I've looked at that scene and you can't really see me. You can see my jacket, and you can see me for like a second, but I'm like, yep. That's the day that I got a bruise that covered my foot for about a week. Oh my gosh. It was so painful. But I was so excited because, you know, James Woods stepped on my foot --

Anne: Stepped on your foot. Absolutely. Right.

Pilar: It was interesting. And I also did extra work on "Law and Order," and they treated the union actors very differently from the way they treated the non-union actors. And I remember thinking, wow, they get like extra candy bars.

Anne: Yeah, yeah.

Pilar: Right. And they get like special food.

Anne: Yep.

Pilar: And it's a whole different world. And they were all in cliques and they would bring their board games and their jigsaw puzzles. And they would, 'cause you know, you're basically waiting all day to do something. And you, the time that you work is so little, but I just remember looking at them going, wow, that's such a cool world. And it's, you know, it's the world of waiting. It's like, you're just basically a waiter. You know, you wait and you wait. So I did a whole bunch of those in New York. And then I started doing more non-union principal work. And then when I got this SAG commercial, I was treated like a queen. I couldn't believe it. I was like, usually you go -- when you're an extra, you go and you, you bring your own clothes, and they look at your clothes and you put your own makeup on, and they treat you a little bit like cattle. I mean, you know, the people are nice. The PA's are nice, but you're just basically shuffled off into a room and you're in. Then they, you know, they, they're, you know, it's food and whatever.

When you're like as a union person -- and this, I didn't even have a speaking part. It was a really, really fun thing. We were just all these characters in like this little sort of little mini play of an office, and my makeup was done. My hair was done. They kept fiddling with my outfit, and I was just like, wow, this is what it's like to be in the union. And at that point I wasn't a member of the union. So that was a really special moment. This was like my first SAG on camera commercial. It was like the big leagues because I had done that extra work on daytime TV that was AFTRA back in New York. But this felt really, really special. And so, I don't know, maybe a couple months after that I received a letter.

Anne: I was going to say, you did the commercial, you did the commercial, the SAG commercial. And then they asked you to join?

Pilar: Yes, yes. And then they asked me to join. And --

Anne: Was it a requirement? It was a requirement?

Pilar: Nope, because you -- a lot of the times what happens is let's say you're, you're an extra, and then you get upgraded to a principal. That happens a lot. And that's how people become members of the union. That that's how it used to be. Now it's, it's a lot more tightly controlled, but that's how a lot of people used to get their SAG cards. So I received that letter, and I wasn't a member of the SAG union when I did the commercial.

Anne: Right. But they treated you so nicely. And then you say, wow, I want that again.

Pilar: Exactly.

Anne: I get that.

Pilar: I want to get my hair and makeup done.

Anne: I want hair and makeup and yeah.

Pilar: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, I was really spoiled in Colombia because I mean, I would go to work pretty much every day 'cause I worked four or five days a week. And so I would just go home with my makeup, and I would go out. And so, you know, it had been so long when I was back in the States that it was just nice. I was like, oh wow. This could be really fun to have this on a regular basis. And I decided I wasn't ready to join the union because it was expensive to join it.

Anne: So AFTRA it wasn't necessarily costly, but SAG was a different story back then?

Pilar: Yes. SAG was different story. Yeah. Yeah. Because the, the initiation dues for AFTRA were so low when I joined, but SAG was, you know, SAG, it was a big deal. And what was going to happen was that then I couldn't do any non-union work.

Anne: Exactly. Exactly.

Pilar: Then I start getting into voiceover, and then I started doing -- I find that there's a lot of voiceover dubbing going on. So I start going to all these different studios.

Anne: So bring me up to date as to what year. Have they merged yet? Because by the way, BOSSes, in case you're not familiar SAG and AFTRA did merge.

Pilar: This is like 2010.

Anne: Okay.

Pilar: Where I start working in voiceover and I start going to the different studios.

Anne: And you're a member of both unions.

Pilar: No, no, I'm still a member of AFTRA.

Anne: Oh, that's right, excuse me, AFTRA but not SAG.

Pilar: Yep. I'm not a member of SAG.

Anne: Got it.

Pilar: And then I don't see anything in the bylaws that I can't do this. So I just keep doing voiceover. I get a little worried because I think, I don't know if this goes against it, but I checked one time with a friend, and they said, no, no, you can do this. And I was like, okay, great, wonderful. And it was literally the only game in town. So then SAG and AFTRA merged. And I believe, I want to say they merged in 2014 around there, maybe 2012, 2014.

Anne: I think it was 2014.

Pilar: 2014. Yeah, that sounds right. Yeah. So one day I got a notice saying you are now a member of SAG-AFTRA and I was like, oh, oh, okay.

Anne: So, oh no, let's see. I'm just looking at -- formed on March 30, 2012. Look at me. Does that make sense?

Pilar: Yeah, because it says here that it -- that they were suspended in 2014, but yeah, you're right, founded 2012. So that means that --

Anne: On my birthday.

Pilar: On your birthday. Oh, well, there you go.

Anne: March 30 is my birthday. Yeah. Special occasion.

Pilar: Is that Pisces?

Anne: Aries.

Pilar: Aries. Yeah. Okay.

Anne: So sorry. There was a little tangent there, BOSSes.

Pilar: I'm a Gemini, by the way.

Anne: Okay.

Pilar: There you go.

Anne: There you go.

Pilar: There you go. Gemini and Aries voiceovers. So now in the member of the union, and now I started going, uh-oh, this is now getting tricky. What do I do? And that's when I actually decided, I thought, okay, well, let me see about doing audio books, because I was not getting enough work through the dubbing because it doesn't pay very well. Years pass and I am still doing dubbing.

Anne: So it got hard to find work, being a member, right, being a member of both unions --

Pilar: Yes.

Anne: -- where you were living to find more work, and that was in Florida. Correct? So it was hard to find work for you?

Pilar: Yes. Now, and so it was hard to find work on camera --

Anne: Got it.

Pilar: -- because I wasn't really tapped into the voice over industry per se when I started. I was really more focused on on-camera. In Florida there is no union voiceover work 'cause it is a right to work state. There might be, but I didn't see anyone when I was there. I just, I was always going for what was around. And you know, you, you worked with different studios and there might be, you could do commercials and stuff, but they never talked about union per se. Other people might've had different experiences.

Anne: I want to kind of bring this back that this was -- I feel like it was a different time.

Pilar: It was.

Anne: Before the Internet, right? We're still talking before the advent of online anything, right?

Pilar: Right.

Anne: Where today we have abilities and opportunities everywhere. Because back in the day, right, when you had a voiceover job, you went to a studio and you did that. It wasn't where you could live, you know, in one state and connect to the studio -- well, until the 2000s, right, and connect to a studio in LA. So there's all sorts of interesting technological advancements that have maybe changed the way the landscape of union, non-union jobs' availability.

Pilar: Exactly. Exactly.

Anne: Because now if you were in Florida, you could still, I feel like you'd have opportunities for union jobs because now we have technologies that allow us to connect to studios that are in different states.

Pilar: And the pandemic has changed a lot too.

Anne: Yeah. Yeah.

Pilar: It's almost like it's brought the world closer because --

Anne: Interesting.

Pilar: -- just so much more accessible.

Anne: Yeah.

Pilar: I will tell you something interesting. Voice123 was launched in 2003, but I don't think people knew about that.

Anne: I was part of Voice123 when they first, they first started. They were, there was no union jobs posted on there.

Pilar: Right. And you didn't go to the Internet to go -- you, you went to a studio to, to get work back then, right?

Anne: Back then before, yeah, before all the pay to plays. And before all the online casting sites, exactly. You would go record in a studio. As a matter of fact, when I first started in voiceover, it was not a requirement to have a home studio at all.

Pilar: Of course.

Anne: That was like a thing that some people did, you know, because they were, you know, tech heads. And as we evolved with a home studio, it's so funny, 'cause it seems like just yesterday, but it wasn't. You know, it's like, wow. Things have really progressed with technology and home studios and, and the landscape of, of how to get work in, in voiceover. And it really ties into this how do you get work if you're in a right to work state? How can you in, and you're part of the union, is there enough work? I've heard that even recently that it's hard to get union work. I mean, where are the opportunities?

Pilar: So here's the thing. What I discovered is, which is something that's very -- more people know about it because is basically word of mouth is that you can convert non-union work --

Anne: Yes.

Pilar: -- to union. You can convert it --

Anne: Through a paymaster.

Pilar: -- that's not something -- yes, through a paymaster, but it's not something that's necessarily advertised. So, and it all depends on rates. You have to be, you know, you have to be up on your rates. But one of the ways that I found it was through audiobooks. So I was able to, by having the paymaster -- ACX used to have this. They've kind of done away with it now. It's not the same as when I started.

Anne: Oh, interesting.

Pilar: The pie has been made smaller. Let's put it that way, but you still can do work through ACX.

Anne: ACX that's union?

Pilar: Yeah. But also get yourself a paymaster. And on certain jobs you can basically ask the client, can we do it this way? And it's possible. It's just, it is a little harder.

Anne: From Florida, you move to California. So now you're right in a right to work state to California. And so how does it -- and you're a member of the union. So how does it change when you move to California?

Pilar: I actually spoke to members, people who worked at the union multiple times saying to them, I would like to work as a union member, but I can't, not in this state. And they were very aware of this. And they said, yeah, we know. We know that we cannot have competitive pricing in a place like Florida. So they knew exactly what was going on. It was not like news to them because I said, you know, I wanted to be upfront. I said, this was happened to me. I was not a member of the union. I became a member of SAG because of SAG-AFTRA, and I, I have to make a living. So when I came to California, I found that it was a lot easier because the structures were in place much more for union actors.

Anne: That makes sense.

Pilar: It also helps having the agents that I do, and they are phenomenon. I was just really blessed to get the agents that I have.

Anne: I was just going to say, and now with the added agencies that you're able to work with, and the fact that you can work remotely can help now as well to increase the opportunities for union work.

Pilar: Yes. Because, Anne, when I lived in Florida, I was working all the time, but I would never have had the opportunity to audition for a McDonald's, for a Geico. Those just were not available to me. So there is something to be said. The union has its pluses and its minuses. But I will say that my decision to come here and work as a, a union actor has probably been the best decision that I ever made. Now, it's not for everyone, but having been on the other side, having been in a right to work state, it makes a huge difference.

Anne: Now let's talk about, it's not for everyone. Now, I will say, as someone who is non-union for me, it really is just based on the genres that I get work in, and the genres that I enjoy doing work in. So I would say obviously, if there's anything broadcast, union is definitely a possibility. You do not have to -- if you're a voice talent, you're just coming up in the ranks, you, you do not have to join the union right away. As a matter of fact, I think it behooves you to do some work, figure out where your niche is, and where you're successful at, at obtaining work, and make the decision then, because for me, I do a lot of non-union work. And for me, it, it works. Even though I live in a state that would benefit me if I decided to join the union and really, you know, go for those genres that can pay off. And I would say that the really nice part about it, the advantage from my standpoint, is that you've got somebody that is on your team negotiating for you and making sure that you are getting paid fairly and equitably. Whereas non-union people, that's, a lot of that is, is left to them, to their own devices, to make sure that you're getting paid fairly and equitably, but it's always nice to have somebody on your team fighting for you and having an establishing ground rules.

Pilar: I agree. We as actors, we don't always have those negotiating skills, and I'm certainly not as good as I could be. I'm definitely better than I was. And when I was a member of Equity, which I've, I've lapsed it because I'm not doing theater, it really came into play. Because they require that you have minimums, and they're very protective. And all the unions, that is their goal, that is their intent. And so that's something that I really appreciate in a vast sea and all this competition and all these people coming up to you and offering you this and offering you that. And then you find out, oh, whoops, that's a scam. So it really does depend on the genre that you plan to concentrate on.

Anne: Sure, yeah.

Pilar: And I will tell you this me probably along with a hundred thousand other people have come to LA thinking, oh yeah, I really want to do animation, which I did. And I do. And I've probably done one thing. However, I've done a lot more commercial work, which I wasn't expecting to do because I thought I was going to get to do animation. It's like, that's like the big joke because everyone and their mother wants to do it. And it's -- it's very hard and it's very competitive.

Anne: Oh yeah.

Pilar: And so I'm constantly improving myself, and I'm constantly working at it. And I'm, you know, I'm doing my homework, like in the other sessions that we've talked about. And, you know, surprisingly for example, I've done some union video games. So that was not something that I was expecting. 'Cause that's much more, they're more dramatic and, and I've been exposed to other kinds of work that I, I had no idea about. I would never have done -- I did a whole campaign last year that I would never have done if I had stayed in Miami. So becoming a union actor just really opens your vistas as to the possibilities. So --

Anne: In specific genres, for sure.

Pilar: In -- yes, in specific genres. Obviously in e-learning and narration, that's something that's still, that doesn't conform to the union. So it doesn't make sense to be a union member if you, if that is the bulk of your work.

Anne: Exactly.

Pilar: So, you know, it, it depends on location and it depends on, on the kind of work that you want to do. I think that the decision to become a union actor is really up to the individual. It's not something that has to be done in a hurry or like, like FOMO, fear of missing out.

Anne: I agree.

Pilar: It's something that has to be done strategically and --

Anne: Absolutely.

Pilar: -- and when you're comfortable, because it will come with its ups and downs. This took me a period of -- it was a very long time. This isn't just something that just happened and I decided, I mean, it was over a very long period of time that I made the decision. And so when you're comfortable, I think that that's when it's the right time to really look at it, because I will say this. It has been amazing the past two and a half years to be part of SAG-AFTRA, really and truly, and I feel so blessed. However, that said, I came into that. I grew into that moment. It wasn't something that I would just say, oh yeah, join the union or, or no, don't join the union.

Anne: Exactly. Because you were already a part of it. So you found the ways to make it really work to your advantage I think as well.

Pilar: Exactly.

Anne: I think if you are just a voice talent, and you're living in a right to work state, or you're doing your genres that you're doing the majority of your work and don't necessarily -- they're not necessarily broadcast, you have some time to grow into it or see if it's something that you might want to get involved with. I think that there's definitely some pluses and there's definitely some things that you've got to think about. I know that you do get health benefits, but I think that that's been a, I'm going to say some negotiations happening there, or some changes in the contract in the last couple of years that have not been positive.

Pilar: But I will say this, that was one of the main reasons that I wanted to come here, and then they switched it and then they raised the levels. But coming from somebody who was paying over like $1,300 a month for insurance back in Miami --

Anne: For insurance, health insurance.

Pilar: Yeah. To basically paying a quarter of that per every three months is kind of amazing. So, you know, one of the things that I learned from other union actors is that they make sure, and they get that out of the way first from the very beginning. So it's like, I'm constantly auditioning.

Anne: So in talking about health benefits, you do have to hit a minimum in order to be eligible for those, correct?

Pilar: Yes, you do. And that's what went up a couple of years ago.

Anne: Right.

Pilar: However, once you hit that minimum, it's amazing. And their health package is like nothing I've ever had. And I had really good health benefits, I thought, in Miami, these are better. They also have some great, great-- the SAG-AFTRA foundation has some amazing webinars and they're constantly teaching. And also for older actors, for dancers, they're constantly trying to get the message across of all the other parts of the, of the performing arts industries, which I think is so helpful. Because, you know, let's say you're a dancer and you are just maybe not wanting to work anymore or you can't work anymore. And so they have all sorts of webinars and workshops where you can learn about these things. And so there are some great benefits to SAG-AFTRA, and again, I, I don't regret in the least having done it. It was just a place where I had to get to it. I had to grow into it.

Anne: Absolutely. And BOSSes out there again, it's, it's a personal decision. My career based on genres that aren't necessarily helped by, uh, being a union member. I am able to work and support myself. I think that with healthcare, you know, that is something that you have to take care of yourself that isn't taken care of by SAG-AFTRA. But again, with SAG-AFTRA you have to hit a certain amount of money that you're making in order to be eligible to utilize that benefit.

So great conversation, Pilar. I think that it's really great that we went through the of it because I just vaguely remember, God, now I know I'm kind of getting old in this industry, that I vaguely remember I was in it before the merger. And you know, how things happen and how things have evolved with how we get work, and how we can now with technology, there's all other avenues to get work for non-union people in terms of with the technologies and casting sites and pay to plays. And as well as how the union, I think, you know, the union is struggling a little bit to keep up with the advances in technology. And that's just any, I think, organization like that has a lot of ground to cover. And I think that that might be one improvement. I've heard people talk about that hopefully the union will get more with the times a little bit. And there was, I think, what was it, a couple of years ago, there were some people going on strike regarding the video games, and the union wants to make sure that their members are protected. So --

Pilar: Yeah, but their heart's in the right place.

Anne: Yeah, I agree.

Pilar: They're definitely on the right track.

Anne: I agree. I absolutely agree. So BOSSes, lots to think about. We covered a lot of ground. Pilar, I totally appreciate your wisdom and your experience with all this, because it's really, really helped me to see how it's evolved over the years and benefits and things that we might want to consider as we continue our journeys in our voiceover careers. So thanks so much for that.

Pilar: No, absolutely. Thank you.

Anne: Okay, guys, I'd like to give a great, big shout-out to our new sponsor, 100 Voices Who Care. This is your chance to use your voice, make an immediate difference and give back to those communities that give to you. Find out more at and a big, big shout-out to other sponsor, ipDTL, you too can network and communicate like a BOSS like Pilar and I do every week. Find out more at You guys, have an amazing week. We'll see you next week. Bye.

Pilar: Bye-bye.

>> Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your host Anne Ganguzza. And take your business to the next level. Sign up for our mailing list at and receive exclusive content, industry revolutionizing tips and strategies, and new ways to rock your business like a BOSS. Redistribution with permission. Coast to coast connectivity via ipDTL.