Guild asks companies to return to bargaining table

Screen Actors Guild thesps have thrown a wrench into the world of videogame voice work, rejecting a tentative deal for a new contract and asking employers to return to the bargaining table.

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which covers the lion’s share of unionized voice work for vidgames, is sending out the same deal to its 2,200 members who work the contract with a Nov. 12 deadline for response. AFTRA’s national board OK’d the deal Saturday with “an overwhelming and strong” recommendation for a yes vote.

Scott Witlin, who reps vidgame employers at the negotiations, told Daily Variety that it was uncertain if the companies would be willing to return to the bargaining table to sweeten the SAG deal.

The two performers’ unions have generally made little headway with vidgame companies — an estimated 75% of the voice work performed is non-union. The SAG contract covers publishing giant Electronic Arts and about 70 other gaming companies.

The rejection, announced Wednesday, comes a week and a half after SAG’s national board approved sending out the deal — without a recommendation — to four member caucuses in Chicago, Hollywood, New York and San Francisco.

Opposition emerged at the Hollywood member caucus on Tuesday night over the “atmospheric” provisions allowing employers to use actors to perform up to 20 voices of up to 300 words at the daily base rate — viewed by some as signifying a major reduction from the current pact.

“From the actor’s point of view, this is a lousy contract — particularly in the multiple voices area,” said Peter Kwong, whose work on vidgames includes “Narc” and “GoldenEye: Rogue Agent.” “I’m encouraging AFTRA members to vote this down.”

Kwong said the question of a strike wasn’t discussed at the Hollywood meeting.

Witlin called the rejection “unfortunate,” noting that the offer would pay thesps a day rate of $782 for four hours of work. He added that the “atmospheric” provision represents a way for actors to get more work over the long run.

SAG’s rejection may doom an effort by negotiators to synch up the expiration dates and terms of the pacts for SAG and AFTRA. Negotiators for AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild reached separate deals with similar terms with vidgame employers on Oct. 2. AFTRA’s deal is a 15-month extension of the current pact that expires on Dec. 31.

SAG and AFTRA have said the deals — which had been negotiated separately during the past year — achieved parity between the AFTRA and SAG contracts. If ratified, both deals would expire on March 30, 2011.

The unions said the contracts contain a 3% wage hike for SAG to match AFTRA’s current deal and an additional 2.5% increase on April 1 for both unions.

Other key points: a 0.5% increase in the pension and health contribution rate for SAG members and an additional 0.2% next year for both unions, bringing the total rate to 15%; the establishment of a $100 liquidated damage per job for failure to give notice of vocally stressful work and agreement to develop a set of guidelines for conducting vocally stressful work; and a cap of $125,000 on contributions to the AFTRA Health and Retirement and SAG Pension and Health funds for performers paid more than $125,000 by a single producer in a single year for work done on the same game franchise.

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