Video game voice actors declared a strike today, as the midnight deadline for negotiations passed without an announcement of a resolution of the labor dispute.
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) voted on Sunday to set October 21 at 12:01 am as the deadline for reaching an agreement, and it voted unanimously to go on strike after that date. And the guild just issued a statement saying the strike has begun.
For the past 19 months, negotiations were under way on topics such as contingent compensation, or payments based on profit sharing, as well as health allowances, such as limiting vocally stressful sessions to two hours to prevent damage to an actor’s voice.
The game companies involved include Activision Publishing, Blindlight, Corps of Discovery Films, Disney Character Voices, Electronic Arts, Formosa Interactive, Insomniac Games, Interactive Associates, Take-Two Interactive, VoiceWorks Productions, and WB Games. Their lawyer issued a release on Thursday saying they had made a 9 percent wage hike offer to SAG-AFTRA performers, plus additional compensation. But the companies said the union refused to put that offer to a final vote by the membership. They brought in a federal mediator on Wednesday and failed to reach an agreement.
A spokesman for the companies said on early Friday morning that no meetings are scheduled between the negotiators.
“We had hoped this would be successful, but union leadership left mediation without providing a counteroffer. We urged union leaders to put the package to a vote of their membership, but union leaders refused,” said Scott J. Witlin of the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, the chief negotiator for the companies, in a statement.
The companies also offered performers up to $950 per game based upon the number of sessions a performer works on a particular game. This, too, is conditional, based upon a Dec. 1 ratification by SAG-AFTRA members. Together with the wage hike, this package could increase overall compensation by up to 23 percent for typical sessions, and in some cases more, Witlin said.
“We improved our offer to demonstrate our willingness to reach a fair, mutually-beneficial agreement after 18 months of negotiations,” Witlin added. “We value our performers and their dedication. The union has demanded a contingency fee based upon number of games sold or subscribers. Instead of that, we are offering to immediately reward the hard work of performers through this accelerated raise and Additional Compensation package.”
SAG-AFTRA said the strike covers all games made by the companies that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015. SAG-AFTRA members will picket Electronic Arts in Playa Vista, Calif., at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time on Monday.
And in a statement on Thursday, SAG-Aftra said, “This group of video game employers knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living. This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.”
The guild also said, “In this industry, which frequently uses performers and understands the intermittent and unpredictable nature of this type of work, fair compensation includes secondary payments when games hit a certain level of success with consumers, not simply higher upfront wages. Secondary compensation is what allows professional performers to feed their families in between jobs.
“No matter what these companies are peddling in their press releases, this negotiation is not only about upfront compensation. 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.
“We have proposed a fair payment structure that enables the sustainability of a professional performer community. These employers have unreasonably refused that. The time has come to end the freeloader model of compensation, and that is why our members are united behind this cause.”