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Video Game Companies Affected By Voice-Actor Strike Issue Statement Criticizing SAG-AFTRA

by Suriel Vazquez on Oct 29, 2016 at 06:31 AM

When we last covered the SAG-AFTRA strike (which is protesting what it sees as unfair working conditions for voice-actors working in video games), the union had successfully initiated the strike, which would affect future video game projects not currently underway.

Yesterday, a group of video game companies affected by the strike (including Activision, EA, Take-Two, And WB Games), issued a statement criticizing some of the tactics SAG-AFTRA used during negotiations on their website, specifically citing the union keeping its members in the dark about what was actually happening at the negotiating table. "SAG-AFTRA never communicated to its membership what was on the table when, on October 19, it declined to counter the Companies’ last proposal and pushed away from the negotiations," the statement reads. The group claims to have offered a 9% wage increase into the first year of the agreement, as well as additional compensation for actors who work more than one sessions for a game. The group asserts the plan was "so close to what SAG-AFTRA is demanding monetarily that we believe most performers would conclude the differences are not worth striking over."

The offer of a 9% increase and the additional compensation are meant as bonuses for a quick resolution to the negotiations and expire on December 1 of this year. The group has also released a chart comparing the various offers of the game companies, comparing them to SAG-AFTRA's demands. The statement then highlights how what the companies are offering would mean voice-actors and performers who work on multiple sessions for a game would are guaranteed money when a game launches, regardless of how the title performs in sales. The statement concludes by urging SAG-AFTRA to let its members vote on the proposals the group has set forth, instead of having union leaders decide the fate of their membership. You can read the group's full statement below.

SAG-AFTRA has launched a strike against the very Video Game Companies that are the biggest advocates and largest clients of SAG-AFTRA talent in an industry that overwhelmingly uses non-union performers.

This is a strike that did not have to happen

SAG-AFTRA never communicated to its membership what was on the table when, on October 19, it declined to counter the Companies’ last proposal and pushed away from the negotiations.

Our offer of a 9% wage increase accelerates the entire payment into the first year – an improvement over the three-year, 3% per year increase that the Union was seeking. It also includes for the first time Additional Compensation for Principal Performers (who work on more than one session on a game).

This structure for Additional Compensation is so close to what SAG-AFTRA is demanding monetarily that we believe most performers would conclude the differences are not worth striking over.

Our Offer of Significant Economic Benefits expires December 1, 2016
Two of the Companies’ proposals – the accelerated 9% wage increase and the Additional Compensation structure- are proposed as bonuses for timely ratification.

That means that if SAG-AFTRA fails to ratify the Companies’ Comprehensive Revised and Enhanced Final Package Proposal (of the evening of October 18, 2016) by December 1, 2016, these significant economic benefits will no longer be part of the package. This is a time-sensitive offer and we urge members to consider it now.

Our Offer on Transparency and Vocal Stress

The Video Game Companies have released these proposals so that the video game community can actually see and evaluate what is on the table.

We have also prepared a comparison chart. The chart shows that in the key areas SAG-AFTRA has raised as strike issues – such as vocal stress and stunt coordination – our positions, are in fact, identical

Virtually Identical Compensation Proposals
The one economic difference between the parties is the Companies’ response to the SAG-AFTRA demand for additional income for performers. But here the difference is more about semantics – not about actual money for performers. The main difference is the terminology – what that additional money is called.

The SAG-AFTRA proposal has two options for game producers. The Union’s first proposal for an optional ‘contingent fees’ structure is so onerous that no one would elect to use it. The Union’s second option is virtually identical in money to the Companies’ proposal.

While the Companies will not call that money a ‘buyout of contingent compensation,’ they will pay it to Principal Performers who work more than one session on a game. SAG-AFTRA seeks to have performers rewarded for their contribution. The Companies want the same – and have made an equitable offer that Union leaders inexplicably refuse to allow members to evaluate or even communicate broadly among membership.

There is another notable difference between the positions and it is one with a real-world impact: The Companies’ proposal is guaranteed money to the performers (who work more than one session on a game) paid at the time the game launches and is not in any way a choice by the video game producer or dependent on the success of failure of the title, so much of which is outside of a performer’s control.

SAG-AFTRA: Let Your Members Vote and Decide
The Companies have repeatedly asked Union leaders to put this package to a vote of their membership. The Union has refused, stating that Union leaders have the right to conduct a strike without further authorization from the membership. It is unfortunate that SAG-AFTRA leadership is relying on a strike vote taken more than a year ago (October 6, 2015), before the Companies made significant concessions in the areas discussed above (vocal stress, stunt coordination, transparency) and before the Companies put this generous economic proposal on the table.

The Video Game Companies are deeply disappointed that Union leadership is preventing the talent we value so highly from working on games that the player community loves.

SAG-AFTRA: Let your members vote on the Companies’ proposal. A prolonged strike only benefits non-union video game producers and non-union performance interests within the video game industry. It will also discourage the unorganized majority of developers and publishers from working with SAG-AFTRA in the future.

Game Informer has reached out to SAG-AFTRA for comment and will update this story should they reply.

For more on the SAG-AFTRA strike, check out Game Informer's primer on the topic.

[Source: SAG-AFTRA Videogames via Polygon]


Our Take
If SAG-AFTRA was indeed keeping their members in the dark about some of the things the game companies were offering, they're going to have a long talk with their members about how the union will handle negotiations going forward. If members see that their wishes aren't being fulfilled by the people who represent them, that's cause for concern. On the flip side, the video game group using bonus pay as a way to expedite any conversations the union might have with its members may be a common tactic, but it's putting people's livelihoods at stake for politics nonetheless. These negotiations are not off to a good start.