SAG-AFTRA union voice actors to strike Friday 21st October over pay disputes.

SAG-AFTRA (an amalgamation of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) have threatened strike action this Friday in response to a standstill in negotiations regarding, among other things, the back-end bonuses of voice actors in successful video game franchises.
The union, which represents over 150,000 voice personalities across multiple platforms, announced earlier this month that an overwhelming 96.55% of it’s membership voted in favor of strike action following over a year of negotiations with big name game companies such as EA, Insomniac Games, Activision, Disney, Formosa and Warner Bros., with the necessary votes to carry the motion being 75%.

The strike action follows over a year of talks regarding renegotiation of contractual terms for voice actors working within the industry. The previous contract in place having expired in 2014, the union has placed it’s primary demands as being the implementation of a back-end bonus royalties for actors on releases topping $2,000,000 in returns. The reasoning behind this being that, according to the SAG-AFTRA FAQ page,

The top games make money. This industry has grown, boomed and morphed into something bigger and more lucrative than many other segments of the entertainment industry, and it continues to do so. The truth is, secondary compensation is not uncommon in the video game industry. In 2014, Activision’s COO took home a bonus of $3,970,862. EA paid their executive chairman a bonus of $1.5 million. We applaud their success, and we believe our talent and contributions are worth a bonus payment, too.”

In addition to this, the union is demanding “stunt pay” for vocalists who engage in stressful roles that pose a potential risk to health, and to be given more information regarding project and audition scheduling.

11 companies in total will be affected by the action, one justification for which being the overpowering rise of the video game world, which now offers more cinematic experiences than ever before and in some cases rivals television and film in terms of revenue, something which the union believe should be reflected in a restructuring of contractual agreements across the board for the industry.

In response, joint spokespersons for the involved companies stated that:

We consider the Union’s threatened labor action to call a strike precipitous, unnecessary and an action that will only harm their membership… SAG-AFTRA represents performers in less than 25 percent of the video games on the market. Any strike would not only deny SAG- AFTRA’s membership work, but this would also give their competitors, who do not engage union talent, a leg up while any strike would be in place.”

They also state that under the current contractual terms actors receive sometimes in excess of $100 an hour, often including bonus pay and extra benefits, and that with regards to risk associated with strenuous work, only one case has emerged in recent years, a number that they are working to reduce even further.

Within the discourse between the two sides, some points sure to be brought to light include the suffering of non-striking union members during the demonstrations, with many potentially not being able to find work with union represented gigs should they actively oppose the action. Conversely to the games companies rhetoric, the ramifications of this potentially outweigh any loss incurred by the union as a result of strike action, not least for the companies themselves who face the threat of postponing future releases and a loss of revenue.union

On social media, many top voice actors have already spoken out in favour of the proposals set by the union, showing solidarity for under-represented clients and support for the movement. Vocal proponents include Sandy Fox, Jennifer Hale of Mass Effect 3, Metal Gear Solid actor Phil Lamarr, Will Wheaton and David Sobolov, voice of Drax on Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Sobolov posted on Twitter that;

‘A producer once bragged he made 10,000 x what I was paid. Why not a small bonus for hit games?

We’ll have to wait on the outcome of the upcoming action, keep posted for updates within the coming weeks. To view SAG-AFTRA’s full strike notice, please follow this link: strike_notice_1.

Another point that the protests could open up for future debate in light of these talks is the payment and appreciation shown to game programmers and developers, who while not currently contesting contractual obligations and pay brackets, may subsequently demand higher rates for work in a field that’s seen more progression in recent years than other competing medias.

– Max Colbert



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