We recently had a question in comments as to why models haven’t unionized. Ed response was such that we thought it best to post it here rather than in comments. So here is Ed’s response regarding the issues of models unionizing.  These are a just few reasons why it has never really happened is not likely to occur in the future.

1.  Each model is in effect a sole proprietor in his/her own business and when hired is typically an independent contractor.  Each consents (or not) to work particular jobs under fees, terms and conditions negotiated by them or their agents. Those terms and conditions vary very, very, very widely. Like a lot.

2. The infinite variety of photographers/photography and models/modeling work makes the creation of standardized fees or working conditions even in a limited geographic area, darn near impossible to set even if so doing were legal.  There are a myriad of federal and state price fixing laws which would come into play here.

3. For a host of reasons you would never expect all of the plumbers, carpenters, lawyers, doctors, etc to form a single union covering the United States.  There are of course union plumbers and carpenters who do standardized work who pass certification tests to assure the public’s health and safety.  The work of models has no effect on the general health and safety on the public at large. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, pharmacists etc. must pass state licensing requirements – again to protect the public. The fees of these professionals vary widely. The majority of plumbing and carpentry work is performed by non-union workers for many reasons, not the least of which is lowered cost.

4.  Top earners would suffer by being lumped in with those who struggle. This was/is the business model of stock photography agencies who lumped the work created big names with that of the unknowns so as to reduce the fees (and attention) they need pay to the superstars AND everyone else.

5.  Those who point to the SAG/AFTRA model used for show business conveniently ignore that 97% of the members of that union do not make enough money in any given years to support themselves and the majority of members work 2 or fewer union jobs per year.  A-Listers like Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep are not adversely affected by union membership. Many, many models and performers work non-union gigs out of financial necessity. Membership in the musicians unions has been dropping for years due to many factors not the least of which is the added cost of using live, union musicians vs. a DJ or a single musician using carts or tracks for background.  Models justifiably feel the same will happen to them.

6.  Models are free to work with several agencies on jobs that they chose under terms they find suitable.  A model who earns say $5,000 a day plus a licensing fee would be foolish to be compared or lumped in with those who earn a fraction of those sums. Throw a union’s prying eyes into the negotiations between models, agents, photographers, clients and ad agencies and you have yet another reason for the job to be killed before it starts.

The notion is appealing to models that struggle or don’t work at all. We have yet encounter or represent any working model or a model who is a big earner to have any interest in having to pay a union to “help them”.  Union membership nationwide is now down to 8% of the work force. In a troubled economy unionized workers are rarely something that employers seek out when the alternative is far more attractive.

The union idea for models has been around in one form or another for over 30 years and yet hasn’t gained traction.  In the meantime the demand for live models has decreased and their overall earnings have continued to decline much like the photographers who use them. Sadly, the number of model agencies and working models who can support themselves continues to decline.