You Never Call!

A scene from the Shahs of Sunset strike in September 2014.

By Rob Callahan

Rob Callahan.

Nobody likes to watch on-screen talent phoning in a performance.  But we do want to see post-production freelancers phoning in their jobs to the Guild offices.  Phoning it in is, in fact, one of the responsibilities of Guild membership.  With thousands of freelancing members in continuous circulation amongst hundreds of different employers, the Guild relies upon members’ self-reporting in order to keep track of who’s working where and when.  Each member has a duty to report to the Guild each job she or he works––whether it is a union or a non-union position.

Why is it important to phone in your job?  Self-reporting of work improves transparency, and transparency is a powerful tool in remedying unscrupulous employment practices.  Having accurate and up-to-date records of where members are employed is crucial both to the Guild’s enforcement of existing contracts and to our bringing more post-production work under the coverage of union contracts.

With regard to the enforcement of existing contracts, the Guild has a responsibility to represent people performing covered work for an employer that has signed an IATSE agreement.  Such representation includes the Guild’s taking steps to ensure that the employer fulfills all of its obligations to the people whom it employs––that it pays an appropriate wage, makes contributions toward an employee’s health insurance and retirement, compensates an employee appropriately for overtime, etc.  But, in order to represent people in relations with their employers, we need to know where, when and by whom they are employed.  Although unionized employers and payroll companies furnish the Guild offices with some of this information, members’ self-reporting provides the Guild with a much more timely and complete picture.

If signatory employers provide the Guild offices with only an incomplete or out-of-date snapshot of whom they employ, non-union employers provide the Guild no snapshot whatsoever.  That’s no accident.  Organizing can only happen when employees decide as a group that they want to take collective action to improve the terms and conditions of their employment.  Such action requires free communication, both within a given group of employees and between that group of employees and the union as their representative.  Most non-union employers would prefer to remain non-union, so that they can continue to dictate terms of employment that are more favorable to them.  Keeping the Guild in the dark about whom they employ and otherwise thwarting communication amongst their employees are some of the more effective ways a non-union employer can prevent its employees from organizing.

We are strongest when our members do the right thing because they are invested in the strength of the union.

Often, when the crew of a non-union production organizes, the campaign for a contract starts with the simple act of someone phoning in a job.  One or more IATSE members hired to work a non-union show may contact their respective locals to report their non-union employment and to provide a crew list upon request.  Union representatives from the various IATSE locals will then have conversations with more members of the crew to determine whether the crew in whole has the desire and the leverage to win a union contract through concerted action.  If it appears that the crew has the will and the weight to secure a contract, the crew will meet to decide democratically that they will stand together to demand a union deal with benefits.  Scads of shows that start as non-union productions end up signing contracts to provide their employees union benefits but, in many cases, it takes a member first contacting the union to report her or his employment on a non-union gig.

The duty to report one’s job is really just one aspect of each member’s need to take responsibility for her or his union.  Often, when people refer casually to “the Guild,” they use the term to refer to a professional union representative on the Guild’s staff, the physical offices of the Guild or one of the union’s elected officials.  But the Guild isn’t a building or the staffers the organization employs; nor is it reducible even to the leaders it elects as representatives.  On a fundamental level, the Guild is its membership.  Looked at another way, the union is the agreement members enter into with one another—an agreement that we’re strongest when we stand together, an agreement that we will look out for one another and our collective interests.  This pact at the heart of Guild membership demands that each member commits to serving as the eyes, ears and—when necessary––the muscle of the union.  Phoning in a gig is of a piece with this greater civic responsibility of union membership.

Some of our sister locals in the IATSE have instituted policies to penalize their members who do not call in the jobs they work.  They issue fines to their members who work non-union jobs without reporting those jobs to the local.  The Editors Guild does not have any such policy, and to date we haven’t deemed it necessary to levy fines.  We are strongest when our members do the right thing because they are invested in the strength of the union, rather than merely seeking to avoid reprisals.  But our system, which relies upon member motivation rather than the threat of punitive action, works only when everyone takes her or his responsibilities as a Guild member seriously.

If signatory employers provide the Guild offices with only an incomplete or out-of-date snapshot of whom they employ, non-union employers provide the Guild no snapshot whatsoever.  That’s no accident.

We have tried to make the self-reporting process as streamlined and simple as possible.  In fact, you no longer even need a phone in order to phone it in!  Members can use the Editors Guild website ( to report the jobs that they are working.  From the “Members” menu of the Guild website, select the option labeled “I Started a Job.”  There you’ll find a form you can fill out to inform the Guild of your new position.  If you prefer calling it in the old-fashioned way, you can telephone Fred Arteaga at our Los Angeles office (323-876-4770, ext. 243) or Sandy Fong-Ging at our New York office (212-302-0700, ext. 201).  In any event, make sure that the Guild offices have up-to-date information on where you’re working, so that the Guild can best represent the membership in its dealings with all of its many employers.

About Rob Callahan 49 Articles
Rob Callahan is the Motion Picture Editors Guild’s National Organizer. He can be reached at Learn more about organizing with the Guild at