SAG rejects vidgame deal

Guild snag sends gamers to AFTRA

Thanks to a yet another rift between the dueling Membership First and Restore Respect factions in the Screen Actors Guild leadership, jurisdiction over the vidgame biz now belongs entirely to AFTRA.

In a surprising conclusion to the protracted negotiations over a new interactive contract, SAG’s national executive committee voted by a narrow margin Wednesday to reject a contract that was previously recommended unanimously, though reluctantly, by a negotiating committee composed entirely of working voiceover actors.

Vote came on the same day that AFTRA’s administrative committee approved the deal, meaning its members can start working under the deal beginning July 1.

Rift also means union work will largely continue in the vidgame industry, but exclusively under AFTRA jurisdiction. Many thesps who work in games belong to both orgs and will thus now work under AFTRA, meaning all pension and health contributions will go to that union and not SAG.

SAG rules require that 60% of its national executive committee, a subset of the national board, vote to ratify the contract. But while a majority affiliated with SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert’s Restore Respect group voted in favor, the Membership First coalition voted against the deal, denying the needed supermajority.

It’s unclear what next steps, if any, SAG can take. With AFTRA onboard, it’s extremely unlikely reps for the vidgame industry will be willing to renegotiate with SAG. A previous strike authorization vote held among guild members who work under the interactive contract garnered around 60% in favor, far short of the 75% supermajority needed, indicating a strike is also extremely unlikely.

Unless a new vote is held, SAG would simply be excluded from jurisdiction over interactive work for the remainder of the new contract, which lasts through the end of 2008.

Aids merger push?

A split decision between SAG and AFTRA on a contract is exactly the nightmare scenario that many proponents of merging the unions had predicted and is likely to fuel further debate on whether the two orgs should join.

“This is an incredibly destructive decision to make, as our union appears to be one with which nobody can bargain in good faith,” said a SAG board member on the Restore Respect side. “The Membership First people have taken SAG out of the interactive business entirely.”

In a statement, SAG exec director Greg Hessinger said only that the org would now “explore our options.”

Throughout negotiations, unions had been pushing for residuals on bestselling games, a point on which the industry proved unwilling to budge. When membership failed to authorize a strike, the negotiating committee unanimously voted to take the vidgame publishers’ last offer, which included a 36% pay hike and other minor concessions.

Better organization

At the same time, SAG and AFTRA leadership pledged to work to better organize the vidgame biz, in which only 10% to 15% of v.o. work is done under union jurisdiction, and make residuals the top priority for the next contract.

Most insiders had expected the deal to pass after it got the nod from negotiators, but discontent apparently came to a head at an informational meeting Monday night. According to accounts from the Membership First side, some negotiators indicated they felt misled by Hessinger, who had indicated that if the contract was rejected, SAG would be in violation of federal labor law if it attempted to discipline members who worked without a contract.

After learning that might not be true, some negotiators apparently indicated they would have voted differently had they known that, thus raising the ire of Membership First leaders who ultimately voted against the contract on the national executive committee.

It’s believed that many SAG and AFTRA members already work for vidgame publishers that aren’t union signatories, however, it’s difficult to identify and discipline actors based on their voices.

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