Negotiators for SAG-AFTRA have rejected the final contract offer from video game companies for work by voice actors, setting the stage for a possible strike.
The two sides brought in a federal mediator Wednesday after several days of talks. The performers’ union announced on Oct. 16 that unless the negotiators reached a deal by Friday, the union would go on strike.
The two sides began intermittent negotiations on a new contract 18 months ago but have been unable to reach an agreement on the terms of the new deal. The voice actors have been working under a contract that expired at the end of 2014.
SAG-AFTRA accused the companies of refusing to acknowledge that, under current conditions, actors need to be compensated for re-use, much as they are already via residuals.
“This group of video game employers knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living,” the union said. “This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.”
“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.”
The final offer included an immediate 9% wage hike if SAG-AFTRA union members ratified the offer by Dec. 1.
“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.
The union announced Sunday that it would go on strike against the following companies if it did not get a deal — Activision Publishing; Blindlight; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices; Electronic Arts Productions; Formosa Interactive; Insomniac Games; Interactive Associates; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions; and WB Games.
One of the key SAG-AFTRA proposals sought bonuses for voice actors on games that sell over 2 million units with subsequent payments when sales reach 4 million, 6 million, and 8 million; that actors receive stunt pay for vocally stressful recording sessions; that vocally stressful recording sessions be limited to two hours; and that stunt coordinators be hired on performance capture.
“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 that the offer was unacceptable because it did not address the issue of secondary compensation.
“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,” the union said.
“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.”