Hollywood Actors’ Union to Vote on Strike Against Video Game Makers

Hollywood Actors’ Union to Vote on Strike Against Video Game Makers

Members of the Hollywood actors SAG-AFTRA union walk a picket line with screenwriters outside of Paramount Studios during an actors' strike in Los Angeles on July 14, 2023. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

9/5/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

Hollywood actors initiated a union-wide vote Sept. 5 to determine whether to strike against video game makers as negotiations with major studios and streaming services remain stalled.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists’ (SAG-AFTRA) national board voted Sept. 1 to send members ballots to decide whether to vote against 10 video game companies after the union said negotiations for a new contract failed.
“It has been nearly a year since SAG-AFTRA’s video game contract … was extended beyond the original expiration date as we negotiated with companies for critical terms SAG-AFTRA members need,” SAG-AFTRA representatives said in a Sept. 1 press release. “For this reason, the negotiating committee and National Board unanimously agreed that the union should have a member-approved strike authorization in hand when bargaining resumes on Sept. 26.”
The union began mailing out ballots Tuesday. Voting is expected to close at the end of business Sept. 25.
A strike authorization vote doesn’t automatically start a strike but it permits the union’s national board to declare a strike if negotiations fall apart, according to SAG-AFTRA.
Fran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA’s president, told members the issue of artificial intelligence (AI) in video games was jeopardizing union jobs.
“Once again we are facing employer greed and disrespect,” Ms. Drescher said in the press release. “Once again artificial intelligence is putting our members in jeopardy of reducing the opportunity to work.”
Unregulated use of AI poses an “enormous threat” to artists’ professions, she continued. For instance, trained stunt performers provide digitally captured performances to give expressive movement to video game characters, and the use of AI without restrictions poses a threat to their jobs, she said.
Without protections in the union’s contract, employers are asking performers to unknowingly participate in the extinction of their artistry and livelihoods, according to Ms. Drescher.
SAG-AFTRA is demanding an 11-percent retroactive wage increase to when the contract ended in November 2020. It was extended at that time until Nov. 7, 2022, when negotiations began for a new agreement.
The union is also seeking a 4-percent increase in the second and third years of the agreement to keep up with inflation.
Members are also asking for on-camera performers to have the same five-minute-per-hour rest period that off-camera performers are granted, and an on-set medic when stunts or hazardous work is performed.
Video game companies included in the agreement are Activision Productions, Blindlight, Disney Character Voices, Electronic Arts Productions, Epic Games, Formosa Interactive, Insomniac Games, Take 2 Productions, VoiceWorks Productions, and WB Games.
The entrance to the Activision Blizzard Inc. campus is shown in Irvine, Calif., on Aug. 6, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

The entrance to the Activision Blizzard Inc. campus is shown in Irvine, Calif., on Aug. 6, 2019. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA members began their eighth week of a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) this week.
SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator and national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland marked Labor Day with a letter to union members, rallying them to “stay strong.”
“Studios counted on fatigue and a fragmenting of the membership, and they have unsuccessfully attempted to foment infighting, but SAG-AFTRA members—you—understand that solidarity is our most powerful weapon,” Mr. Crabtree-Ireland said in the letter.
Union members took Monday off to celebrate the holiday but were expected to return to the picket lines at major studios for the rest of the week.
In another letter published Monday in the industry magazine Variety, Mr. Crabtree-Ireland said SAG-AFTRA is willing to continue negotiating with the studios but the alliance told them it would be “quite some time before they would be ready to talk.”
“More than 52 days later, we are still ready and willing to negotiate a fair deal, but we have not heard a word from the AMPTP,” he added.
Hollywood writers and actors hold a union rally outside Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., on Aug. 22, 2023. The “National Day of Solidarity” rally drew an estimated 2,000 people supporting the ongoing strikes against major studios. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

Hollywood writers and actors hold a union rally outside Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., on Aug. 22, 2023. The “National Day of Solidarity” rally drew an estimated 2,000 people supporting the ongoing strikes against major studios. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

However, the studios and producers, including Amazon, Apple TV, Disney, Fox, Netflix, NBCUniversal, Paramount Global, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Warner Bros. Discovery, and others, have resumed some negotiations with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has been on strike since May 2.
The AMPTP released details of a proposal Aug. 22 countering a writer’s union proposal submitted 11 days prior. The alliance’s package featured first-of-their-kind offers for writers, including unprecedented terms in AI, data transparency, and minimum staffing, the association said in a press release.
“Our priority is to end the strike so that valued members of the creative community can return to what they do best and to end the hardships that so many people and businesses that service the industry are experiencing,” said Carol Lombardini, president of the AMPTP, in a statement.
Details of the studio’s and producer’s offer include the highest wage increase for writers in 35 years. This included a compounded 13-percent raise over the three-year contract—a 5-percent increase in the first year, a 4-percent increase in the second, and a 3.5-percent raise in the third.
Additionally, the studios offered a 15-percent increase in minimum weekly rates for some writers in the first year and more wage increases up to the third year of the agreement, taking a writer from $9,888 per week to $11,371 a week for up to nine weeks, in one scenario.
Residuals would also increase from $72,067 to $87,546 per episode for three years, according to AMPTP.
Members of the The Writers Guild of America picket outside Fox Studios in Los Angeles on May 2, 2023. (Ashley Landis/AP Photo)

Members of the The Writers Guild of America picket outside Fox Studios in Los Angeles on May 2, 2023. (Ashley Landis/AP Photo)

Protections were also offered for the use of AI. Studios proposed regulations that included AI-generated written material would not be considered literary material, and a writer’s compensation, credit, and other rights would not be affected by the use of AI material.
Other terms were offered for writer training and development.
The WGA’s negotiating committee co-chair Chris Keyser released a video statement on Labor Day without mentioning if the union was considering the latest offer but reiterating it would continue fighting.
“This strike will end, and we will go back to work and it will be better when it is over,” Mr. Keyser said.
Previously, the WGA released a statement Aug. 24 saying the proposal was “not yet good enough.”
“The counteroffer is neither nothing, nor nearly enough,” the union said in a release. “As we have repeated from the first day of our first member meeting—and on every day of this strike—our demands are fair and reasonable, and the companies can afford them.”
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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