There's a new path to union benefits and protections for dancers who earn money on social media. During a virtual meeting on February 6, the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists' national board voted to adopt its first-ever agreement for influencers—personalities and performers paid to promote products and services on networks like Instagram and TikTok, plus non-networked websites. In addition, those side hustles are no longer prohibited for current members of SAG-AFTRA. Members can earn credits toward health-care and retirement plans, among other benefits, each time they sign onto a union-approved gig.
Best known for representing performing artists and journalists in film, radio and television, SAG-AFTRA says less than than 1 percent of its estimated 160,000 members are dancers; card-carrying members have minimums for qualifying income and workweeks per year, yet on-camera job opportunities for dancers remain scarce. To make ends meet between the occasional union shoot for a TV commercial or movie scene, a dancer might teach, join a concert tour, or appear in a Broadway or Las Vegas show—none of which count toward SAG-AFTRA minimums.
Dancers can get stuck in a similar position trying to earn and maintain union membership through Actors' Equity Association, focused on theatrical performance, and they generally need to be hired by one of a few major companies, mostly classical, to join the American Guild of Musical Artists. "The diversity of job terrain for dancers is substantial," says Jamal Story, chair of SAG-AFTRA's national dance committee and also a member of Actors' Equity. "Working dancers who are relatively accomplished in terms of their resumés and 'gig-ability' across the dance landscape might not have access to pensions and health benefits due to this lack of concentration."
Shaine Griffin, associate commercials strategist for SAG-AFTRA and a key player in crafting its new Influencers Agreement, describes the expansion as a work in progress. "We're eager to see how the community responds, and we're willing to make changes as needed," she says. "It's very collaborative and meant to evolve as it needs to, but we had to start somewhere."
Among other restrictions, for now, the agreement is available only to solo performers paid for audio or video content, not photos; influencers who dance in crews or small groups aren't eligible; they must be incorporated as a business, not a partnership or nonprofit; and the advertisers who pay them can't already be signed onto SAG-AFTRA's Commercials Contract. Still, there is no minimum rate for influencer gigs, and, citing the fast-moving, fickle nature of the social media ecosystem, Griffin says the agreement covers posts on Snapchat, Twitch, YouTube and all the rest, plus platforms and networks that don't yet exist.
Prior to February, SAG-AFTRA did already have guidelines in place for certain types of online-only gigs, but it was a challenge for performers who only worked as influencers to join the union, and existing members either had to decline such opportunities or risk penalties for working "off the card."
"This is a step in recognizing the evolution of entertainment," says Griffin. The union itself could evolve in turn. If the Influencers Agreement leads to more dancers joining SAG-AFTRA, that could lead to greater representation on its boards and committees.