Since it began negotiations in early 2015, the voice actors’ SAG-AFTRA union has been demanding better baseline and secondary compensation (including the potential for residual payments on the highest-grossing games) and job transparency, among other requests. The union instructed its members to strike following what it called an unsuccessful last attempt at an agreement with video game studios on October 21st.
Last weekend, after over 300 union members and allies conducted a picketing event outside of Electronic Arts’ headquarters in Playa Vista, California, representatives for the game studio coalition created a website and Twitter account seemingly named to imply it was SAG-AFTRA-supported. The website provides the companies’ version of negotiation events and insists that its proposed “structure for Additional Compensation is so close to what SAG-AFTRA is demanding monetarily that [it] believe[s] most performers would conclude the differences are not worth striking over,” though reading between the lines makes clear the studios continued to reject the parts of the proposal that would entitle some actors to payments akin to royalties based on elite games’ performance.
The union’s lawyers demanded the studios remove the website earlier this week on the grounds that it was deceptive and infringed trademarked union names, though the video game companies have not yet done so as of press time today. On Halloween, SAG-AFTRA prepared an FAQ to re-assert its position and rebut the studios’ accusation that union leadership rejected a fair deal without adequately informing its membership of the offer on the table.
“Our members expect that when the negotiating committee submits a contract to them for ratification, it’s because the committee that bargained it and the National Board both recommend ratification,” union reps say. “In this case, no one is recommending this deal. Our members supported a strike authorization over these issues by a nearly 97-percent margin.”
SAG-AFTRA also disputes game company lawyers’ claim that residual payments aren’t done in the gaming industry.
“Take2 Interactive, for example, reported that it paid about $270 million in internal royalties in their most recent quarterly filing with the SEC. We also know from speaking to developers that many if not most video game corporations pay bonuses based on the success of the company. What we have proposed is really no different as applied to freelance workers — we want bonus payments for performers working on the most successful games. [… The studios] appear to be concerned that if they are seen to compromise with one group of employees, other groups of their employees might get ideas. This is not an industry with the best track record of labor practices. They have a long documented history of overworking their employees to the point of damaging their physical and emotional health. Our performers are at the vanguard of demanding better treatment, but they are surely not the only video game employees in need of it.”
— SAG-AFTRA (@sagaftra) November 2, 2016