MONDAY: Now AFTRA has officially weighed in on the Interactive Contract and confirmed what SAG Interactive Committee chair Michael Bell told me — that AFTRA is starting informal negotiations on its own. Wheras in 2005 both AFTRA and SAG bargained the Interactive Contract jointly. See AFTRA’s statement below Bell’s…

SUNDAY: The Chair of the SAG Interactive Committee, Michael Bell, tells me that AFTRA is about to break with SAG on yet another previously jointly negotiated contract — this time the Interactive Contract affecting voice-overs. “This has been disclosed to me by staff and discussed on Thursday by my committee. This particular email [below] is not SAG endorsed, however SAG will be sending out an email of their own regarding AFTRA’s meetings with the Interactive Producers and their obvious interest in negotiating without SAG. As a result, a notice from the guild will be going out to all its members (albeit targeting the voice-over community that works this contract), alerting them to a voice-over caucus on the subject. All will be welcomed to attend.” I haven’t heard back yet from AFTRA. Here’s the email which Bell has distributed:

It has come to the attention of the S.A.G. Interactive Committee, that AFTRA is about to negotiate the Interactive contract without the participation of S.A.G.
As you probably know, AFTRA and S.A.G. jointly bargained the Interactive Contract three years ago. Although the joint committees both agreed that RESIDUALS were the number one priority of the negotiations, the AFTRA committee members ultimately agreed to a contract with NO residuals.  As a result, the S.A.G. committee members were left no choice but to accept  the same terms.
In the three years since those negotiations, the Interactive industry has grown from $9 Billion dollars per year to $27 Billion dollars per year.
Also during that time, your S.A.G. Interactive Committee has been successful in organizing efforts that  have turned a long time major non-union employer into a S.A.G. signatory with two huge projects in production.

We have been informed that AFTRA claims to be holding Wages and Working Conditions meetings with Interactive actors in preparation for their negotiations (which are said to be imminent.)
We know for a fact that a majority of the top Interactive actors (those who record numerous games each year) know nothing about AFTRA’s present W&W meetings or AFTRA’s  plans to go it alone in the upcoming Interactive contract negotiations.
Since AFTRA has not told the S.A.G. Interactive Committee anything about these negotiations, here are the questions all SAG actors that work that contract or expect to work that contract must ask:
1) Is AFTRA really holding Wages and Working Condition meetings with Interactive actors?  And if actors are part of those meetings, who exactly has been invited?
2) What criteria did they use for their invitations?
3) Why have not all AFTRA members which are comprised mostly of VO talent been officially informed of these meetings?
4) Who is on the AFTRA committee that will be negotiating this contract?
5) What employers will be involved in these negotiations?
6) Why hasn’t AFTRA contacted S.A.G. to coordinate negotiations?
7) When are the AFTRA Interactive negotiations set to begin?
8) Are RESIDUALS part of AFTRA’s proposals?
9) And most importantly:  Will AFTRA abandon RESIDUALS once again as they did three years ago?
You can write directly to the AFTRA Interactive negotiator Mathis Dunn.

Please demand that AFTRA hold a caucus of the entire Interactive community of actors before beginning any negotiations.

Demand that AFTRA coordinate their negotiations with S.A.G. instead of de-leveraging S.A.G. as they did in the current TV/Theatrical negotiations.
Please send a copy of your correspondence to the S.A.G. Interactive Committee.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  The Interactive Contract is completely independent from the TV/Theatrical contract currently being negotiated by S.A.G. The outcome of those negotiations have absolutely nothing to do with the Interactive Contract.  No job action, if any, will have anything to do with this contract.
In solidarity,
Michael Bell
S.A.G. Interactive Chair

Here is what AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon and AFTRA Interactive Steering Committee national chair Denny Delk responded on Monday to members:

We are preparing to address the AFTRA Interactive Agreement… The AFTRA Interactive Agreement has been in existence for two decades since AFTRA members first organized the area of interactive gaming to ensure that they, and the working performers that came after them, had the protection of union rates and conditions. AFTRA was the first performers’ union to organize and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with Electronics Arts and since then AFTRA members have continued to expand union protections for performers working in this field. The Interactive Agreement is not now, nor has it ever been, a contract negotiated under the Phase One Agreement between AFTRA and SAG.

The current AFTRA Interactive Agreement is set to expire on December 31, 2008. In June 2008, the AFTRA National Board authorized the appointment of an Interactive Steering Committee (ISC) to guide strategic approaches for negotiations of the Interactive Agreement in 2008. In authorizing this Committee, the National Board was keenly aware that the Commercials Contracts expire on October 29, 2008, (now extended to March 31, 2009), and wanted an authorized working group of performers invested in the Interactive field to actively monitor and ensure that progress towards reaching a timely successor Interactive Agreement was not overlooked during the intensive preparations necessary for the Commercials Contracts.
The ISC was appointed from among working AFTRA members who have substantial employment under, and working knowledge of, the AFTRA Interactive Agreement. The ISC consists of working AFTRA performers from the three major centers of AFTRA’s Interactive employment: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. During the month of August, the ISC also met with groups of working members from these and other cities. Every one of these members has substantial work experience under the AFTRA Interactive Agreement, and is also a dual card holder.

Members of the ISC and working groups have provided their talents on games such as Grand Theft Auto, Gears of War, Halo II & III, Final Fantasy, Trilogy III, Mercenaries, Metal Gear IV, Speed Racer, Godfather II, Batman, Unreal Tournament, Halo Wars, Spiderman III, Lord of the Rings, CSI 3, Kane and Lynch, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Star Wars Force Unleashed, to name just a few. We are deeply appreciative to these working AFTRA performers who are volunteering their time to participate in and guide our process, and for sharing their extensive experience and understanding of this field on behalf of their fellow performers.

The ISC has determined that it is in the best interests of working members to attempt to resolve a successor agreement sooner rather than later, and it would not be in the best interests of working performers to delay our work and possibly compromise timely implementation of any wage increases and improved conditions that are ultimately negotiated. To that end, it is in the best interests of performers to hold off-the-record conversations with representatives of the AFTRA signatory employers in early September to determine if a framework for reaching a successor agreement in a timely fashion is possible. Once we have had an opportunity to determine whether reaching an acceptable framework is possible (or not), meetings will be held for AFTRA members working under the AFTRA Interactive Agreement for their information and input. Those meetings have not yet been scheduled, but we anticipate they will be held in late September.

The ISC members have also determined that, having successfully achieved more than 30% increases in base rates in our 2005 negotiations, establishing a structure for residual or “back-end” payments is one of the priorities that must be addressed in reaching a successor agreement in this 2008 cycle.

We are all committed to executing a sober, thoughtful and strategic approach to reaching a strong successor agreement for working performers. As such, AFTRA will not engage in any discussions in the press, on blogs, or viral e-mails nor allow the AFTRA Interactive Agreement, or any other contract, to be used for political purposes. Official notices of informational meetings where AFTRA members can receive accurate complete information and provide their input will be sent to interested members later this month.