SAG-AFTRA Goes on Strike Against Video Game Producers

Work stoppage began this morning one minute after midnight PT

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SAG-AFTRA video game actors are officially on strike.

The boycott went into effect Friday morning as 12:01 a.m. PT, and is against the following video game producers: Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc.

The strike covers all games made by these companies that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015.

Core issues are lack of secondary compensation, transparency and even basic respect, the union said in a memo.

“We’re asking for a reasonable performance bonus for every 2 million copies, or downloads sold, or 2 million unique subscribers to online-only games, with a cap at 8 million units/subscribers,” SAG-AFTRA wrote. “That shakes out, potentially, to FOUR session payments per principal performer for the most successful games: 2 million, 4 million, 6 million and 8 million copies.”

SAG-AFTRA also wants the actual title of the project and the role being hired for made available before signing a contract, which is more in line with television and film work. The union also demand that additional vocal safety measures be implemented, and that stunt coordinators be present for any potentially dangerous acts.

“SAG-AFTRA has gone to the negotiations table with serious concerns affecting voiceover and stunt performers,” said SAG-AFTRA chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez. “It’s time for video game employers to take our concerns seriously and negotiate a modern contract based on actor safety, industry precedent and best practices.”

“SAG-AFTRA doesn’t want to strike, who does? But we cannot stand by and watch our members suffer serious injury and put their careers at risk in the current environment,” added Keythe Farley, a voice actor, casting director, and voice director who chairs SAG-AFTRA’s Interactive Committee. “The time is now for a new contract for our members.”

Union members plan to picket Electronic Arts in Playa Vista, Calif., Monday at 10:30 a.m. PT.

SAG-AFTRA rejected a “final offer” from top video gaming companies over the union’s bid for fairer labor practices, according to the chief negotiator on behalf of the gaming giants.

The union responded, saying the group of video game employers “knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living.” In a statement Thursday, the actors union said, “This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.”

The gaming companies’ final offer allegedly included an immediate 9 percent wage hike if SAG-AFTRA ratifies the offer by Dec. 1, as part of a revised proposal for a new three year contract.

A federal mediator was brought in on Wednesday, speaking from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., TheWrap learned.

“We had hoped this would be successful, but union leadership left mediation without providing a counteroffer,” Scott J. Witlin, the chief negotiator for the video game companies, said. “We urged union leaders to put the package to a vote of their membership, but union leaders refused.”

But SAG-AFTRA indicated in its response on Thursday that the companies are putting their spin on the story.

“No matter what these companies are peddling in their press releases, this negotiation is not only about upfront compensation,” said the union. “It is about fairness and the ability of middle-class performers to survive in this industry. These companies are immensely profitable, and successful games — which are the only games this dispute is about – drive that profit.”

The gaming companies said they were also prepared to offer performers up to $950 per game based upon the number of sessions a performer works on a particular game. Along with the 9 percent wage hike, the package would increase overall compensation by up to 23 percent, sometimes more, per session, the gaming giants contend.

“We improved our offer to demonstrate our willingness to reach a fair, mutually-beneficial agreement after 18 months of negotiations,” Witlin added on behalf of the companies.

Prospects for an agreement were dim from the beginning of this week as the big gaming companies and the actors union traded previous war of words in the public sphere.

Game makers, including Activision and Electronic Arts, said in a joint statement on Monday that they “have negotiated in good faith” with SAG-AFTRA and are “disappointed” over the strike date announcement.

“As part of the minority of game companies that are signatory to an agreement with [the] union, we have demonstrated our commitment to excellent wages and working conditions for video game performers,” the gaming companies said. “We are confident that no matter what action the union leadership takes, our current release schedule will not be materially impacted.”

In response, SAG-AFTRA indicated the gaming giants mischaracterized the union’s position, saying in a statement on Monday: “We are surprised to hear that the video game companies with whom we have been negotiating for nearly two years now assert that progress is being made on the major concerns we are focused on in this negotiation. We look forward to hearing their thoughts on the crucial issues of performer safety and fair compensation that we have put forward.”

SAG-AFTRA declared its strike plan following a unanimous vote last weekend among the labor union’s board of directors.