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If you’re a regular reader here at TechRaptor, you’ll know that we’ve been following the negotiations between SAG-AFTRA and the legal team representing various video game employers, Barnes and Thornburg LLP, with interest. We reported last week that a picket was planned to take place outside EA’s offices on Monday, 24th October. The picket happened as planned and SAG-AFTRA reported that more than 250 of their members turned out to join them. In the interest of bringing you an informed and balanced run-down of where both parties currently stand on the issue and the result of the picket, we reached out to both SAG-AFTRA and Barnes and Thornburg to provide comment. Both sides have kindly responded and we’re bringing you a breakdown of the key points from both statements below.

The statements from both sides of the negotiations pulled no punches and made it clear that there is still some significant division between performers and employers. It is worth noting here that Barnes and Thornburg’s statement was released first, and many of the points raised by SAG-AFTRA’s counter statement directly refer to this release. Scott J. Witlin on behalf of the video game employers began by saying:

These proposals exchanged across the table prove the Companies and SAG-AFTRA have largely agreed on the significant issues before us except for the label we have placed on the ‘Additional Compensation,’ which would be paid above and beyond our proposed 9% pay increase. The documents also demonstrate that the Companies value performers and reached agreement with the Union on the issue of vocal stress.

But representatives at SAG-AFTRA see it differently. Regarding the issue of additional compensation, their negotiating committee responded:

Their attempt to characterize their offer to make “additional compensation” payments at the time of session as equivalent to our “contingent compensation” proposal is disingenuous and misleading. These employers know full well that our issue is the creation of secondary payments that allow our members to share in the success of the most successful games. The employers’ offer purposely does not do that.

Barnes and Thornburg were keen to stress that they feel their final offer was “very close” the SAG-AFTRA’s demands in public statement, they released information and charts showing where they felt that had reasonably responded to the union’s demands. The full list ran as follows:

9 Percent Wage Hike
The Companies exceeded the Union’s request for a 3% raise over each of the next three years by Companies offering a 9 percent up-front increase, but only if a new agreement is ratified by December 1st.

Additional Compensation

In the Companies’ final proposal, the Companies increased the maximum amount of Additional Compensation to match the amount of the Union’s request for a ‘contingent’ compensation buy out of up to $950. While the Companies have held to their position that there will be no ‘contingent’ compensation, the Companies have proposed a schedule of “Additional Compensation” that largely matches SAG-AFTRA’s last demand, including the total aggregated figure and the number of sessions necessary to earn that amount. This offer, too, must be ratified by December 1 to become effective.

Pension and Health Contributions

The Companies agreed to the Union’s request for a 0.5% increase and have agreed in principal regarding which of the benefit plans the money should be directed to.

Vocal Stress Issues

After the Union rejected the Companies’ proposals concerning modifying voice over sessions to mitigate any risk of vocal stress, the parties agreed on forming a joint cooperative committee to study vocal stress issues.

Stunt Coordination

The expired Interactive Media Agreement between the Companies and SAG-AFTRA already provides for a stunt coordinator to be on site for sessions that include stunts. While SAG-AFTRA made no new proposals in this area, it did seek further clarification about the use of stunt coordinators and both sides agreed to continue those discussions through the cooperative committee during the term of the new agreement.

Transparency

The Union’s proposal requested additional up front information when booking performers in video games to know more information (game title name, new role or a reprise of a previous role).  The Companies enhanced their proposal to agree to provide the code name of the project and whether the performer will be asked to reprise a previous role.  While SAG-AFTRA contends that the video game industry is the only industry not to require an employer to reveal the name of the project on which a performer is working, SAG-AFTRA has no such requirement in Television, Theatrical Motion Pictures or Animation agreements.

Summary

Except for the label on the Companies’ ‘Additional Compensation’ proposal, there are no significant material differences between the Companies’ final proposal and the Union’s last proposal.  The wages, additional compensation, pension and health contributions, vocal stress, stunt coordination, and transparency proposals are almost identical.

The negotiating team at SAG-AFTRA, however, see this list as unrepresentative of why their strike continues as planned. They say in the opening of their statement that: “Despite what the video game employers restated today, SAG-AFTRA has not received a fair offer that would resolve our negotiations. The union remains committed to reaching an equitable solution while employers are the ones who continue to be intractable in their bargaining.” Which is clearly at odds with what the press releases from Barnes and Thornburg have stated. The union attempt to further clarify their position in the body of the statement:

The video game companies claim they “did everything in their power” to reach an agreement with us. In fact, we accepted their offer of an upfront payment option in order to avoid triggering any secondary payments. This would have allowed them to preserve their existing compensation practices.

We simply asked to include secondary payments as an option in the agreement. 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.

Both sides seem entrenched in their respective positions, both are insisting that they are the ones trying to make an agreement work – as you might expect in a high-profile negotiation. Separately, both sides have indicated they are open to resuming negotiations if the other side is willing to make concessions. The statement and separate comments from Scott J. Witlin, made directly to our writer here at TechRaptor, are keen to point out that SAG-AFTRA did not put the final offer from negotiators to a vote of their members. When asked if they [Barnes and Thornburg] felt that their final offer made enough progress toward the union’s demand to warrant this, he replied:

SAG-AFTRA took its strike vote a year ago and even then had only disclosed to the membership through its website what our initial proposals were back in February, 2015. When we read what SAG-AFTRA is saying and what the membership is saying, it is clear that the parties bargaining positions are not being heard by the public at large.

But SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee vehemently disagrees with this statement, saying:

We know where our members stand, and we will put a deal in front of the SAG-AFTRA membership when we have an agreement our committee can recommend.

They also point out in their public statement after the picket that an overwhelming 96.5% of their membership initially voted in favor of the strike. They clearly believe their member’s position remains the same, at least for the moment, when asked how long they would stay out [on strike] for Union president Gabrielle Carteris said: “We are willing to stay out as long as it takes – not only the performers but the union itself.”

The main point of contention, for now, seems to be that while the representatives of the video game employers see the difference between negotiating positions as one of semantics, SAG-AFTRA and it’s members see it as a far deeper and more serious division. They have even suggested that the employers’ attitude toward their differences is ‘dismissive’. Nothing typifies this more than both sides’ closing statements, which we reproduce here in the order they were released. First, Barnes and Thornburg’s Scott J. Witlin:

“The Union negotiating committee’s continued public positioning of workplace safety as a rationale for striking these pro-Union Companies is disingenuous and paternalistic,” Witlin said.  “SAG-AFTRA should allow its affected members to vote on the Companies’ final proposal and determine for themselves whether the semantic difference that does exist between “additional compensation” and “residual” is worth the costs of a strike.

And here, the response of SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee:

What the employers dismissively characterize as a strike over “terminology” is actually a strike over the respect and compensation that professional performers deserve.  Secondary payments are what enable professional performers to survive between jobs and reflect the respect they earn for contributing their creativity, talent, voices and likenesses to the games they help bring to life.

Now, management continues to ignore the SAG-AFTRA members who lend their voices to the industry’s greatest games.

For now, at least, it appears neither side is any closer to reaching an agreement – or even getting back to the table – and strike action is set to continue indefinitely in the meantime.

For more information on affected employers, the details of the negotiation, or to see events as they happened please check our previous articles on the picket announcementthe strike announcement, and the vote of SAG-AFTRA members.

We know that many of our readers feel strongly about this issue, and we encourage you to share your thoughts with us in the comments below. Does anything that has been said by either side change your position on the debate?

 


Dom O'Leary

Staff Writer

I'm a dyed in the wool gamer of the now irrelevant (I'm told) generation-X. If I'm not gaming, you'll find me writing about games, writing my wonderful fiction (opinions may differ), playing guitar, or eating... sleep is a distant memory.



  • SomeCollegeStudent

    Ah great, another argument between employers and workers./sarcasm

  • RockstarRepublic

    SAG-AFTRA are just a bunch of mobsters and thugs. Never cave into them.

  • Fearghul

    The fact is that the “residuals” model doesn’t exist outside the acting industry, and they’re trying to shoehorn it into incompatible business models. The stuff about “earning between jobs” is interesting, until you realise that you need less than 200 hours a year at MINIMUM SAG rates to make the median HOUSEHOLD income in the US. This stuff about how they NEED this to live between jobs is insane.

  • Fearghul

    Their closed shop bullshit is a definite sign of that. If you read their contracts its amusing as hell, lunch 5 minutes late? That’s a fine per SAG member. Oh, and that will be everyone, because you are not allowed to have any non-SAG members working. Star Trek Online had to ditch a character because of SAG rules…

  • 22

    Personally I don’t see how closed shops can be justified – I know why people want it but it’s absurdly unfair. There’s no balance of power – it’s always working against somebody. I’m so glad it’s illegal in my country so we don’t have to worry about it.

  • Fearghul

    When it comes to acting, it’s pretty much global. Equity, the acting union was the last one to operate closed shops in the UK, only stopping after the EU courts intervened, and there’s been talk about Labour pushing for an exception to allow “limited” closed shops for acting…

  • Mr Snow

    It’s just cronyism and bullying.
    Hopefully the companies don’t cave to this shit and start realizing there’s plenty of amateur talent out there that’s as good or better than people in the SAG.

  • Mr Snow

    No sympathy at all from me for these “actors”. I’m a semester from graduating with a BS in Comp Sci. I’ve had to work for my degree and know what programmers have to go through.

    That a person can just have a good voice then demand better benefits than people doing real work…

    Go fuck yourselves.

  • DDD-kun

    If possible, can I get a link to the source of the various quotes made by the SAG-AFTRA representative? I know where the T&B quotes come from, but I’d like to know the whole source of these quotes.

    That requested, I have no more confidence in the union’s ability to succeed now than I did days ago. Whether they like it or not this is a stacked deck against them. The percentage of the VA workforce they hold is small. The percentage of lobbyists and investors that corporate holds is not-so-small. They won’t win a war of attrition.

    Otherwise, I’m not as incensed as I was about it days ago. When I get more info in hand, then I’ll start making serous condemnations.

    Except let’s state the obvious: that contingency residual by design is a tenure perk. New VAs will never see that, because multi-million unit sales (ie: 3A gaming) will always, always, ALWAYS call for high level talent or outright Hollywood guest talent. VAs doing nondescript extras may make a piece, but by and large that seems to me a slice of pie strictly for tenured talent to enjoy. And it’s not to be enjoyed in the face of basic competition. But then, unions themselves are not designed to encourage or support competition.

  • popehentai

    So where do i sign up to “scab” for these guys?

  • Zepherdog

    I’m waiting for someone with far more insight and facts than me to drop the incident regarding Guy Cihi and the Silent Hill Voice Acting crew, Konami and Troy Barker/Tomm Hulett here.

  • Dom O’Leary

    Sure thing, the information came from a statement forwarded to us by SAG-AFTRA, which is now available on their official site: https://www.sagaftra.org/sag-aftra-responds-management-claims-remains-committed-negotiations-0?page=2

    Thanks for the comments 🙂

  • BurntToShreds

    This whole strike just gives off that same smug aura I get whenever I read about the feud between the big record labels/musicians and YouTube, where the record labels/musicians whine about YouTube not paying them enough and want YouTube to change things up. These voice actors and SAG-AFTRA don’t understand why people buy games, sort of in the same way that the music people don’t understand what YouTube is for. People buy games mostly for the gameplay, and people go onto YouTube mostly to watch other smaller (compared to the record labels) creator’s videos and create their own videos themselves. The voice actors and musicians are not the main draw. Yet they still try to make themselves the center of attention like a bunch of smug jerks, along with potentially ruining things for everyone else.

  • We need more people protesting at EA HQ.

  • Ncrdrg

    Oh, come on. Lay it off with the “real work” bullshit. I’m a programmer too. Do they deserve residuals? Heck no. Programmers don’t, no reason why voice actors should get it. But saying voice acting isn’t a “real job” is complete nonsense. It takes a lot of talent and work to have a good range. Adults are often the ones voicing children, similar to how it works with the anime industry. Just because you don’t agree with their demands doesn’t mean you have to diminish the work they do just to be spiteful.

  • Bryy

    Real work?

    WTF?

    Go screw yourself.

  • Bryy

    Yet the VA industry exists, so I don’t see what your point is? That they shouldn’t be asking for safe working conditions?

  • Bryy

    Are people even reading this? Residuals doesn’t mean “every game sold”.

  • Sam Guglielmo

    Oh boy can’t wait to go back to these days.

  • Fearghul

    You know, I looked a little closer at the picket pictures up top and a small detail struck me. Anyone who has “insert name here” picket signs probably doesn’t have a really good reason to be picketing and way too much time to be doing it in…I also wonder if they’ll get up to the same level of bullfuckery as they’ve done with past strikes and attempting to interfere with non-SAG members working? Time will tell I suppose.

  • Fearghul

    Which bit is that? The secondary payments that SAG are so dead set on? Or the session limits that (largely already existed in the previous contracts with anything over 4 hours in a day being overtime…) have already been accepted by the game studios?

    One of those is safe working conditions, the other is a cash grab.

  • Fearghul

    It is real work, though the compensation is much more than most jobs already. 200 HOURS a YEAR at minimum rates to earn the median household income (generally two people working fulltime btw!) is pretty sweet.

  • Dom O’Leary

    Hi, apparently even my posts auto reject when I link, so I’ll go ahead and repost this with the first few letters missing. As I attempted to say previously; the quotes came from a document sent to us by SAG-AFTRA in response to our enquiry, which is now available on their official site: **tps://www.sagaftra.org/sag-aftra-responds-management-claims-remains-committed-negotiations-0?page=2

    And thank you for the comments 🙂

  • Dom O’Leary

    Hi, apparently even my posts auto reject when I link, so I’ll go ahead and repost this with the start of the url missing and hopefully it works. As I attempted to say previously; the quotes came from a document sent to us by SAG-AFTRA in response to our enquiry, which is now available on their official site: sagaftra.org/sag-aftra-responds-management-claims-remains-committed-negotiations-0?page=2

    And thank you for the comments 🙂

  • Dom O’Leary

    Hi, apparently even my posts auto reject when I link, so I’m gonna break it down. The quotes came from a document sent to us by SAG-AFTRA in response to our enquiry, which is now available on their official site: if you go to sagaftra .org and look for the document titled ‘sag-aftra-responds-management-claims-remains-committed-negotiations’ you should find what you’re looking for.

    And thank you for the comments 🙂

  • 22

    Labour would. I don’t see why (aside from union money); the only benefit to a closed shop is to the ones who abuse it.

  • Zepherdog

    You take the Voice Acting from a game, there’s still a game.

    You take the programing and development from a game, you get… what exactly?

  • Mr Snow

    Being good looking and having your voice autotuned by programmers is not a skill.

  • Mr Snow

    Because I’m right?

    Okay.

  • Bryy

    Snow, dude, you have no idea how much you’re going to feel like an asshole once you get out into the real world.

  • BurntToShreds

    Okay, so I was looking up some stuff about this and I came across some details that I had forgotten about. Back when this whole thing started, one of the demands of the union was that if one of the voice actors was a union member, then that meant that the studio was required to make sure that *every* VA was a union member. Is that still part of their demands? Because if so, I definitely cant support that kind of crap.

  • Mr Snow

    I’ve been in the real world for 17 years. I’ve worked in radio and television. I know what it takes to be in front of the camera and behind it. I know how easily DJ’s / radio personalities get replaced while the producers / board ops are kept around because they’re harder to train / replace than someone with a voice who can read a script, or a pretty face in front of a camera who can do the same.

    So don’t lecture me about the real world, about the entertainment world, because YOU have never been in it.

  • Bryy

    Said the guy who knows nothing about me.

  • Mr Snow

    Cool, make up something about yourself. But if you worked in entertainment you’d know. So, you can leave now, you lost days ago.

  • Bryy

    I really do hope someday that you meet someone that challenges you enough to realize you’re not the King Shit.

  • DDD-kun

    Much appreciated, thanks! I’ll be looking on that asap.

  • Fearghul

    Yep. SAG run closed shops. You have to only hire SAG members if you hire any…

  • Kage

    Yet, you were perfectly fine calling Snow an “asshole” that wasn’t living in the “real world”.

    Not very bright, are ya?

  • Kage

    Cry more. Games need programmers. They need designers. They need artists. They don’t NEED voice actors; especially voice actors who whine and complain about a job that the goddamned studio janitor could do.

  • Mr Snow

    And one day your other ball will drop.