SAG-AFTRA union members have voted yes to authorize a video game strike. It did so with a 98.72% vote in favor of authorizing a strike on the Interactive Media Agreement that covers its members’ work in the games industry. In total, 34,687 members cast ballots, which represents 27.47% of eligible voters, SAG-AFTRA writes in a press release.
This vote does not mean SAG-AFTRA is striking, but gives the union leverage in its ongoing negotiations and, if needed, allows the union to begin a strike immediately. The union hopes this strike authorization will work as added leverage, compelling the companies it is bargaining with “to make significant movement on critical issues where we are still far apart.”
As for why, SAG-AFTRA has been in Interactive Media Agreement negotiations with “signatory video game companies,” including Activision Productions Inc., Disney Character Voices Inc., Electronic Arts Productions Inc., Insomniac Games Inc., Epic Games, Take 2 Productions Inc., WB Games Inc., and more, since October of last year. SAG-AFTRA says, “Throughout the negotiations, the companies have refused to offer acceptable terms on some of the issues most critical to our members, including wages that keep up with inflation, protections around exploitative uses of artificial intelligence, and basic safety precautions.”
The next bargaining session begins today and is scheduled for tomorrow, September 27, and Thursday, September 28, as well.
“It’s time for the video game companies to stop playing games and get serious about reaching an agreement on this contract,” SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher writes in a press release. “The result of this vote shows our membership understands the existential nature of these negotiations, and that the time is now for these companies – which are making billions of dollars and paying CEOs lavishly – to give our performers an agreement that keeps performing in video games as a viable career.”
SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland says it has become clear to the union after five rounds of bargaining that video game companies aren’t willing to meaningfully engage on critical issues like compensation undercut by inflation, unregulated use of AI, and safety. “I remain hopeful that we will be able to reach an agreement that meets members’ needs, but our members are done being exploited, and if these corporations aren’t willing to offer a fair deal, our next stop will be at the picket lines,” Crabtree-Ireland says in the press release.
“Between the exploitative uses of AI and lagging wages, those who work in video games are facing many of the same issues as those who work in film and television,” chief contracts officer Ray Rodriguez writes in the press release. “This strike authorization makes an emphatic statement that we must reach an agreement that will fairly compensate these talented performers, provide common-sense safety measures, and allow them to work with dignity. Our members’ livelihoods depend on it.”
After a unanimous recommendation of the SAG-AFTRA Interactive Media Agreement Negotiating Committee and National Board earlier this month, voting information was sent to eligible members on September 5. The final deadline to vote was yesterday.
Previously, SAG-AFTRA called for a strike for its members performing video game work back in October of 2016. The strike lasted almost a year before a new contract was signed in November 2017. It went into effect on November 8, 2017, and was expected to run through November 7, 2020. However, an agreement was reached between member employees and their employers that extended this contract to November 7, 2022, as reported by Variety.
“We are pleased to have reached this agreement with the employers,” then SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the entertainment industry, but work on video games, much of which can be done remotely, has continued. This extension allows members to keep working and have some certainty during an uncertain time.”
This extension increased wages by 3% each year, with health and retirement contributions increasing .5%, according to Variety.
Ahead of the contract’s expiration in November 2022, bargaining began in October 2022. It continues this week, now with a strike authorization in play.
This SAG-AFTRA strike authorization comes shortly after the Writers Guild of America (WGA) union reached a tentative agreement in Hollywood. It has yet to be ratified but is expected to be and will end a nearly five-month strike that began in May of this year. SAG-AFTRA’s television and film arm began striking in July; it is still striking today.
SAG-AFTRA says the Interactive Media Agreement negotiations “don’t affect the timing or expected progress of negotiations or our strike on the TV/Theatrical contract” and that this strike authorization vote does not impact the ongoing TV/Theatrical strike.