Members of SAG-AFTRA have voted overwhelmingly to give their leaders the authority to call a strike against the video game industry, which is expected to rake in more than $20 billion this year in the U.S. alone. The strike-authorization vote comes after negotiations for a new contract broke off in June.
The vote doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s going to be a strike, but it gives union leaders a powerful bargaining chip when they return to the table. If future talks fail to produce an agreement, leaders would be able to call a strike without another vote.
The strike authorization was approved by 96.5% of those voting, though only those who had worked under the union’s Interactive Media contract were eligible to cast ballots, and the union isn’t saying how many voted.
“With this result in hand,” the union said, “the Negotiating Committee will seek to return to the bargaining table and continue to press for a fair resolution on behalf of performers working in video games.” The Interactive Media agreement expired on December 31, and bargaining sessions held in February and June failed to produce an agreement.
“We’ve been through two rounds of negotiations with our employers, and they’ve rejected every proposal we’ve made,” the union said on its website. It says the companies’ proposals “are completely without precedent in the entertainment industry, and we believe they are reckless and ill-advised.”
These proposals, the union says, would allow the companies to hire their own employees to play characters in video games without having to join the union, reductions in fees that would “roll back the gains we’ve made in previous contracts” and $2,500 fines against actors who are not “attentive to the services for which they have been engaged.” The guild told its members that “this means you could be fined for almost anything: checking an incoming text, posting to your Twitter feed, even zoning out for a second.”
The companies — which include EA Games, Activision, Disney and Warner Bros as well as smaller recording studios such as Blindlight and Formosa — also are seeking onerous sanctions against agents who refuse to send their clients to certain auditions.
“Our employers propose to fine your agent $50,000-$100,000 if they don’t send you out on certain auditions, like Atmospheric Voices or One Hour-One Voice sessions,” the union told its members. “And if your agent chooses not to submit you for certain auditions, the employers want it put into contract language that SAG-AFTRA will revoke the agent’s union franchise. This would mean your agency would not be able to send you or anyone else they represent out on any union jobs, including those in animation, TV/Film, Commercials, etc.”
The union’s chief demand is for backend bonuses for voice actors that would be triggered once a game sells 2 million units.