UPDATED number of picketers: More than 250 SAG-AFTRA members and their supporters took to the picket line today outside the Playa Vista, CA, offices of Electronic Arts in the first job action of the union’s four-day-old strike against the video game industry. Peaceful and joyous in solidarity, they carried “On Strike!” signs and chanted sing-song slogans: “Hey, hey, shut it down, LA is a union town!”
“We are willing to stay out as long as it takes – not only the performers, but the union itself,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris told Deadline from the picket line.
“What do we want?” the picketers around her shouted. “A fair contract! When do we want it? Now!”
In a show of solidarity, representatives from the WGA, the Musicians Union, IATSE and the Teamsters took up signs and joined the picket line. “We support our brothers and sisters at SAG-AFTRA, and we’re here to walk in solidarity with them,” said Teamsters Local 399 secretary-treasurer Steve Dayan.
The union has ordered its members to stop working on more than 100 of games produced by 11 major companies. Struck titles include Activision’s Call Of Duty 4, EA’s American Football 17, WB Games’ Injustice 2, and Formosa Interactive’s Brothers In Arms. The union is also planning job actions at the other major companies in the days and weeks ahead.
“This is a strike unlike any we’ve done before,” Carteris said. “We have different actions planned as we roll it out.”
The strike, which has been years in the making, is the result of the union’s frustration with the $20 billion-a-year industry’s steadfast refusal to pay performers residuals. The main sticking point in the strike is the union’s demand that the industry offer secondary payments to actors and voice-over artists employed on the most successful games.
The two sides came 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, they offered a nearly identical proposal that they call “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.
Before contract talks broke off last week, the companies offered to give actors an upfront bonus based on the number of sessions worked. The union’s negotiating team was willing to accept the offer as long as secondary compensation was an option. “In other words,” the union said, “an employer would have the option to buy out an actor by paying a bonus upfront or, if they prefer, they would have the option to pay a bonus after the game releases, if the game happens to sell more than 2 million units. The employers have refused to consider this option, excluding games from union talent if they are unable to afford the upfront bonus structure.”
The companies’ chief negotiator has said his offer is “nearly identical” to the union’s, and has accused the union of taking its members out on strike “over terminology.”
Ray Rodriguez, the union’s chief contracts officer, said that that’s not true. “It’s important to us to see progress on the issue of secondary compensation,” he told Deadline from the picket line. “In the spirit of compromise, we made it an option, but they’re taking advantage of that to make it look like we are having a dispute over terminology, when it fact our dispute is about the biggest dispute these parties have had in the 20-plus years that this contract has existed.”
The union’s members who work on games are clearly behind the strike, having voted 96.5% to 3.5% to authorize the walk-out. “It’s important that the people who produce should be sharing the profits with the people who perform,” a video game actor told Deadline from the picket line.