“This is a strike that did not have to happen,” the site says. “SAG-AFTRA never communicated to its membership what was on the table when, on October 19, it declined to counter the companies’ last proposal and pushed away from the negotiations.”
The main strike issue is the union’s insistence on establishing back-end residuals payments for performers who work on games that sell more than 2 million units. The two sides came very close to an agreement on the issue, but couldn’t agree on what to call it. Seeking to set a precedent that might lead to residuals in future negotiations, the union asked for an upfront buyout of “secondary compensation” (i.e., residuals), but the companies refused to call it that. Instead, it offered a nearly identical proposal that it calls “additional compensation.”
Both sides’ plans would have given actors a bonus on top of their regular pay when they work on more than one session per game, topping out at $950 for eight sessions. The union, however, wanted to give the companies the option of paying the upfront bonus or paying residuals for successful games. “We simply asked to include secondary payments as an option in the agreement,” the union says. “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.”
On its new website, the companies said that “The one economic difference between the parties is the companies’ response to the SAG-AFTRA demand for additional income for performers. But here the difference is more about semantics – not about actual money for performers. The main difference is the terminology – what that additional money is called. The SAG-AFTRA proposal has two options for game producers. The union’s first proposal for an optional ‘contingent fees’ structure is so onerous that no one would elect to use it. The union’s second option is virtually identical in money to the companies’ proposal. While the companies will not call that money a ‘buyout of contingent compensation,’ they will pay it to principal performers who work more than one session on a game.”
SAG-AFTRA, the companies’ site says, “seeks to have performers rewarded for their contribution. The companies want the same – and have made an equitable offer that union leaders inexplicably refuse to allow members to evaluate or even communicate broadly among membership. There is another notable difference between the positions and it is one with a real-world impact: The companies’ proposal is guaranteed money to the performers – who work more than one session on a game – paid at the time the game launches and is not in any way a choice by the video game producer or dependent on the success of failure of the title, so much of which is outside of a performer’s control.”
The site goes on to argue that “the companies have repeatedly asked union leaders to put this package to a vote of their membership. The union has refused, stating that union leaders have the right to conduct a strike without further authorization from the membership. It is unfortunate that SAG-AFTRA leadership is relying on a strike vote taken more than a year ago – October 6, 2015 – before the companies made significant concessions in the areas of vocal stress, stunt coordination and transparency, and before the companies put this generous economic proposal on the table. The video game companies are deeply disappointed that union leadership is preventing the talent we value so highly from working on games that the player community loves.”
When that strike authorization vote was taken a year ago, it was approved by 96.5% of those who cast ballots. Many performers are fed up with the gaming industry’s refusal to pay residuals, and by all accounts, the strike still has the support of the vast majority of performers who work in the gaming industry.