LOS ANGELES (October 31, 2016) – SAG-AFTRA issued the following statement on Monday in response to the video game corporations’ public remarks about our ongoing negotiations:
The video game corporations are trying to convince our members and the public that video game actors actually support the last proposal that these companies made. In fact, our members have voiced their opinion of this proposal by going on strike. The game corporations and their representatives cannot unilaterally determine when we have a deal. They have no business even talking about our ratification process. No action can be taken by the union until the member negotiators — performers who regularly do this work — have a deal they believe is fit to recommend. Those members, after negotiating with the employers for nearly two years, have rejected the employers’ unsatisfactory offer and have decided, with a nearly 97 percent strike authorization vote in hand, to call a strike. If the companies want our members to vote on a deal, we can arrange that as soon as they offer a deal that is acceptable. They know what that deal is.
Meanwhile, to help reporters better understand this process, here are some answers to frequently asked questions.
Q: The game companies say that if we took their offer to the membership, they would vote to take it. Why not do it?
A: Our members expect that when the negotiating committee submits a contract to them for ratification, it's because the committee that bargained it and the National Board both recommend ratification. In this case, no one is recommending this deal. Our members supported a strike authorization over these issues by a nearly 97-percent margin. They have shown up to mass meetings to let it be known that they unanimously support this action and to send the message that if the deal does not address their issues, we shouldn't bother submitting it to them for ratification. We have yet to hear any members clamoring for the opportunity to vote up this deal. The only ones complaining that this deal hasn't been submitted for a vote are the employers and they don't get to dictate our ratification processes to us.
Q: There does not appear to be a large economic difference between the employers’ last offer and your willingness to allow secondary payments to be optional. Why not just take their deal since the economics are so similar?
A: The employers' logic seems to be that because the Union narrowed the scope of our ask to the minimum that we need to get a deal done, we should just go ahead and give the rest up, too. We reject that logic. The fact that we have made it nearly cost neutral for the employers to evolve this contract in the direction of other mature industry agreements is a reason for them to say yes, not a reason for us to move even further in their direction.
Secondary payments are a core issue for professional performers across all the contracts we negotiate because they enable a freelance workforce to survive between jobs. They also reflect the respect our members deserve for contributing their creativity, voices and likenesses to the games they bring to life. These companies pay bonuses -- and sometimes even game royalties -- to their animators and developers and so they should. Those folks work hard and deserve a bonus when their work produces billions of dollars in revenue for their employers. Frankly, we think they deserve more than what they're getting. And so do our members.
We have tried to accommodate the employers' concerns by introducing secondary payments into this contract in a way that allows them to preserve their existing compensation practices while allowing for other producers who sign the agreement to use a secondary compensation model in lieu of the additional upfront payments these employers have proposed. Not all game companies can afford to pay the upfront payments that the video game corporations have proposed. Even this modest compromise was rejected out of hand. We have gone as far as we're going to go in the employers' direction. It's their turn to be reasonable and compromise. Now that a successful video game makes more than even the biggest box office blockbusters, there's no excuse any longer for these employers to cling to a substandard agreement negotiated 20 years ago.
And none of this addresses the other core concern where employers have refused to be reasonable. Our members often go to work on video games not knowing the game they are working on, which is absurd. You would never work on a movie or television show without knowing the title and a whole lot more. This strategic withholding of information not only deprives performers of the ability to make meaningful choices about which roles to accept, but undermines the ability of their agents to negotiate appropriate compensation, which is really the point. Animators, developers -- all the employees who don't negotiate for their compensation on a game-by-game basis -- know the title of the game. Only the freelance employees are told they can't know the title and then some of them, especially the stunt and motion capture performers, are told on their first day of work because the negotiation for their pay is over at that point. This is another area where the employers' practices fail to provide our members the respect and fair treatment they deserve.
Q: The game companies say that they don’t offer residual payments of any kind to programmers, artists, and other people who work on video games. Is this true?
A: No, the companies’ assertion is demonstrably not true. Take2 Interactive, for example, reported that it paid about $270 million in internal royalties in their most recent quarterly filing with the SEC. We also know from speaking to developers that many if not most video game corporations pay bonuses based on the success of the company. What we have proposed is really no different as applied to freelance workers -- we want bonus payments for performers working on the most successful games.
Q: Why are the companies so resistant on the performers' key issue of allowing for the option of secondary compensation?
A: We often wonder the same thing. They appear to be concerned that if they are seen to compromise with one group of employees, other groups of their employees might get ideas. This is not an industry with the best track record of labor practices. They have a long documented history of overworking their employees to the point of damaging their physical and emotional health. Our performers are at the vanguard of demanding better treatment, but they are surely not the only video game employees in need of it.