SAG-AFTRA’s National Board of Directors has voted unanimously on a strike date against major video game employers, and if negotiations are unsuccessful, will walk go on strike Friday, October 21 at 12:01 a.m.
The union will be striking a litany of video game industry giants, including 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. If no deal is reached, all games which went into production after February 17, 2015 will be struck.
“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. Our members have been clear, now is the time for employers to negotiate a modern contract that covers this highly profitable industry,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris in a statement released Sunday night. “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.”
The decision comes amid am increasingly bitter battle between the guild and the video games industry over the treatment and compensation of voice actors. For years, the majority of voice acting and motion capture video game jobs have been non union with certain union rules observed largely only in Los Angeles and New York. In 2015, SAG AFTRA resolved to negotiate better deals for union members for their work within one of the largest entertainment industries in the world.
In many ways, the dispute comes down to the stark differences between the tech sector and the entertainment industry, a problem exacerbated by the way the video game industry straddles both worlds. Among the disputes, the industry has long refused any residual payment schemes or other profit sharing, and the union says the industry has also rejected proposed health allowances, for example reducing vocally stressful recording sessions to two hours in order to prevent permanent damage to the actor’s voice.
“We have received a clear and unambiguous message from the community who work this agreement that the situation they face has become intolerable. We are always prepared to reach a fair deal with employers, but they must play their part,” said National Executive Director David White. “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.”
One particularly intense point of contention is a set of onerous rules the video game industry wants placed on actors and their agents, which were made public by guild members in September, 2015. One proposal would give video game publishers the ability to fine the union tens of thousands of dollars if a franchised agent does not participate in every audition for which their services are solicited. Another would allow them to fine voice actors more than $1,000 if they’re late to work or considered not to be fully engaged in the work. A still more ludicrous rule, according to SAG AFTRA, would require revocation of an agent’s union franchise if they fail to send their clients to every audition.
The union also wants the video game industry to cease imposing secrecy about the work actors are hired for, outline the specific work an actor would be contracted to, and allow them to know the name of the game they would be working on, before taking the job. The industry, which famously is highly secretive about new IP in development, has also rejected that proposal.
“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.”