“Hey hey, shut it down, L.A. is a union town,” yelled SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris through a bullhorn.
The performers union launched the strike Friday against EA and 10 other video game makers after negotiations cratered over the key issues of secondary compensation (residuals) and transparency — meaning that the union wants companies to stop being able to hire without identifying the game. Carteris noted that the talks lasted 19 months before collapsing last week.
“Members have been incredibly supportive of the decision to strike,” she told Variety. “These have been very thoughtful negotiations and we’ve been very transparent with our members about our positions.”
More than 96% of those voting among the 5,000 “affected” members — those who have worked on the contract — approved a strike authorization last year.
For their part, reps for the 11 companies held their own news conference Monday at noon in Century City to release copies of the companies’ and the union’s last proposals, which purportedly show that the companies matched SAG-AFTRA’s requests for wages, benefits, and additional compensation before the Union called its strike.
“These proposals exchanged across the table prove the Companies and SAG-AFTRA have largely agreed on the significant issues before us except for the label we have placed on the ‘Additional Compensation,’ which would be paid above and beyond our proposed 9% pay increase,” said Scott J. Witlin of the law firm of Barnes & Thornburg, the chief negotiator for the Video Game Companies.
But Carteris and chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez said at the rally that SAG-AFTRA had not reached final agreement on any proposals. “We don’t have a contract,” Carteris added.
Phil LaMarr, a negotiating committee member whose voice credits include “Mortal Kombat,” “Metal Gear,” and “Infamous,” stressed that the decision to go on strike was not taken lightly. “As actors, we spend so little time working that the last thing we want to do is not work when we could be working,” he admitted.
LaMarr also took particular exception to the companies’ assertion that permitting secondary compensation would be unfair to other employees. “What you’re saying is that no one is allowed to get a fair deal, God forbid,” he said.
The action was the first picket for the first strike by the four-year-old SAG-AFTRA. Supporters included members of Local 399 of the Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicias and a contingent from the Writers Guild of America West — some wearing the ubiquitous red T-shirts from the 2007-08 WGA strike.
The companies insisted Monday that the proposals on wages, additional compensation, pension and health contributions, vocal stress, stunt coordination, and transparency proposals are “almost identical.”
“SAG-AFTRA should allow its affected members to vote on the Companies’ final proposal and determine for themselves whether the semantic difference that does exist between “additional compensation” and “residual” is worth the costs of a strike,” Witlin said.
Under the Oct. 21 strike order, SAG-AFTRA members are barred from working for Electronic Arts and 10 other video game companies — Activision Publishing, Blindlight, Corps of Discovery Films, Disney Character Voices, Formosa Interactive, Insomniac Games, Interactive Associates, Take-Two Interactive Software, VoiceWorks Prods. and WB Games.
UPDATE, 5:25 p.m. – SAG-AFTRA issued a statement blasting the companies in the late afternoon:
“We know where our members stand, and we will put a deal in front of the SAG-AFTRA membership when we have an agreement our committee can recommend.
Their attempt to characterize their offer to make “additional compensation” payments at the time of session as equivalent to our “contingent compensation” proposal is disingenuous and misleading. These employers know full well that our issue is the creation of secondary payments that allow our members to share in the success of the most successful games. The employers’ offer purposely does not do that.
The video game companies claim they “did everything in their power” to reach an agreement with us. In fact, we accepted their offer of an upfront payment option in order to avoid triggering any secondary payments. This would have allowed them to preserve their existing compensation practices.
We simply asked to include secondary payments as an option in the agreement. This would allow other producers to avoid those upfront costs by agreeing to share their prosperity on the back end — if their game was successful. The game companies we are negotiating with adamantly refused to allow such an option to exist in the contract. That is why we find ourselves at such an impasse.
What the employers dismissively characterize as a strike over “terminology” is actually a strike over the respect and compensation that professional performers deserve. Secondary payments are what enable professional performers to survive between jobs and reflect the respect they earn for contributing their creativity, talent, voices and likenesses to the games they help bring to life.
Now, management continues to ignore the SAG-AFTRA members who lend their voices to the industry’s greatest games.”