24 Right-to-Work states

The topic of Right to Work has resurfaced with Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proposing Right to Work zones throughout the state.  As WGN described it, these would be “local counties or municipalities where workers can choose whether or not they want to join a union.  Rauner says it will attract companies and create jobs. Opponents say it will drive down wages.

What does this mean for Producers?

In my earlier post Union Busting 101, I summed it up with:

Right to Work does not preclude Right to Picket

It annoys me when film offices promote themselves as Right to Work states, as if there’s going to be some extra benefit or savings.  There’s not.  It’s false advertising at best.  Especially for film and television productions.

Shooting in a Right to Work state does allow union-productions to hire non-union crew (and vice-versa), but it does not prevent that union from throwing up a picket line.  And that’s pretty much game-over.

Once the picket line goes up, all your union and Guild cast and crew have to stop working.  Think about all the non-union independent films that naively hire SAG actors (trying to get the best of both worlds.)  Those actors have to pretty much stay in their hotel rooms until SAG clears them to return to work.  And if losing all your SAG, DGA, WGA, IATSE and Teamster cast and crew isn’t enough, try shooting outdoors when they’re blasting their car horns and megaphones.  Bottom line, you’ll have to shut down production, negotiate, then resume production – with each passing day wasting tens-of-thousands-of-dollars, or more.  A business moving into a state might be able to withstand this in the long run, but the 30-90 day lifespan of film production means every day is critical.

This is not about whether Right to Work is right for Illinois, but rather that Right to Work should not be a motivating factor for filming in a given state.

If you haven’t read my post on Union Busting 101, I encourage you to do so; despite it’s fluffy title, it’s actually a no-nonsense guide to working with unions and guilds, not against them.  I’m telling you…life is too short.


  1. Having sat on and continuing to sit on both sides of the fence as a guild member and producer I do some morality juggling now and then.

    There were valid reasons for the establishment of unions but often they evolved into entities that became counterproductive to all concerned. Having worked in L.A., New York, Boston, Memphis and Toronto, I can tell you that each locality has its own structure and degree of union rigidity, at times being of little service to its members while representing an obstacle course for the producers.

    In Boston when my ad agency’s accounting department dragged its heels and malfunctioned, making talent payments far too late, I acted on behalf of the union against my own people by begging the local SAG/Aftra office to throw every possible penalty at us to get our payments process into action.

    But when budget considerations and a need for an uncomplicated production is required, I have no reservations about working out of the hinterland to bypass unions altogether paying all involved fair wages but avoiding the extra bodies that unions would insist on; bodies that would simply get into the way.

    Advanced digital equipment which lets anyone produce a film as good as the talent of its makers sort of pulls the rug out from under the unions and makes them more vulnerable than ever.

    • Thanks Andy – we always appreciate your insights – especially coming from both sides of the fence, as you put it.

      This post is not a referendum on unions or Right to Work policy, but a red flag to producers that Right to Work generally does not bode well for filmmaking, because they’re too vulnerable to shutdowns.

      If a producer wants to shoot a non-union, low-budget indie out in the sticks, then go for it. It’ll probably work out. But if you’re shooting in a major urban city, then you should know what to expect, like extra bodies.

  2. very interesting and thanks jeff… how long does it typically take sag to let the actors get back to work during a picket? i did not know that was a factor, and of course it is a very important one, thanks for pointing it out.


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