UPDATE: Video Game Actors Strike Begins

SAG-AFTRA condemns gaming companies’ “freeloader model” of compensation as midnight deadline approaches

Indoor quarantines likely to spur increase in gaming

10/21 UPDATE: The video game actors strike has begun. Read more here.

SAG-AFTRA reportedly 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.

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

All but confirming that the strike will happen, the union reiterated that its members are “united behind this cause.”

The gaming companies’ final offer 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.

And according to the gaming side, the union is still scheduled to strike on Friday.

A federal mediator was brought in on Wednesday, speaking from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m., TheWrap has 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 is fighting back, indicating 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 in its Thursday statement. “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.”

The top priorities for the actors union are:

-That video game actors get paid residuals for their work.
-Limit sessions for vocal work to two hours in order to avoid vocal chord injuries.
-Improved transparency, so actors know whether they’re playing a lead character or a supporting role, and also whether they’ll have to relay sexually explicit or offensive language and/or storylines.
-Assurances that stunt coordinators will be present when capturing stunts or other dangerous work.

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

The strike will happen on Friday (Oct. 21) at 12:01 a.m. PST if SAG-AFTRA’s terms aren’t met with video game publishers: Activision; Blindlight; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts; Formosa Interactive; Insomniac Games; Interactive Associates; Take 2 Interactive; VoiceWorks Productions; and WB Games.

SAG-AFTRA contends that progress in negotiations has stalled for more than a year.

“Unless a deal is struck during bargaining sessions scheduled for the first part of this week, all games that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015 for the aforementioned employers will be struck,” a SAG-AFTRA announcement read.

“Through many months of bargaining with interactive employers, we have not reached a fair agreement covering SAG-AFTRA performers working in video games — often the most popular games in the world,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris in a statement earlier this week. “Our members have been clear, now is the time for employers to negotiate a modern contract that covers this highly profitable industry.”

“A strike is not to be entered into lightly, but when the employers leave us with no recourse, we must stand firm for our members. It is imperative that we secure for them the protections, compensation and benefits they deserve,” Carteris added.

“We have received a clear and unambiguous message from the community who work this agreement that the situation they face has become intolerable,” said National Executive Director David White. “We are always prepared to reach a fair deal with employers, but they must play their part. It is a serious decision to conclude that a job action of this magnitude is necessary and we hope that we can reach a fair deal before the deadline set by the board. But make no mistake: if we are unable to find a way to address the minimum needs of our members, we will go on strike as planned.”

“We need a contract that fits the needs of our members working in video games,” said Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez. “So far employers have been unwilling to meet us even close to where the needs of our members are.”