More than 250 people picketed EA today

Over 250 SAG-AFTRA voice actors and allies congregated outside Electronic Arts’ Playa Vista office in Western Los Angeles this morning as part of a recently-launched labor strike against EA and 10 other game companies.

Film trade publication Deadline notes that this picket marks the first public action after the strike was called last Friday. The EA building is one of several union members intend to picket.

“This is a strike unlike any we’ve done before,” SAG-AFTRA president Carteris tells Deadline. “We have different actions planned as we roll it out.”

The picketers’ demands include enhanced safety and oversight for strenuous vocal sessions, safer conditions during motion capture and performance capture, and residuals for games which perform well commercially. The videogame companies — who are collectively represented here by law firm Barnes & Thornburg — have stated they believe the strike to be to the union’s detriment, and that the terms they have proposed are already in line with what SAG-AFTRA negotiators are demanding.

“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,” says Scott Witlin, chief negotiator for the companies, in a statement released this morning. “SAG-AFTRA should allow its affected members to […] determine for themselves whether the semantic difference that does exist between ‘additional compensation’ and ‘residual’ is worth the costs of a strike.”

The difference between the companies’ proposed “additional compensation” and “residual” is actually not merely semantic. Residuals in the entertainment industry are typically recurring, accruing and paying out either indefinitely or for a contract-specified length of time. The companies’ proposal places a cap of $950 on its “additional compensation” model, meaning even in the case of a wildly successful game, voice actors won’t see an additional dime beyond that limit.

The union has characterized Witlin’s remarks as “disingenuous and misleading.”

“What the [videogame companies] 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,” the union says in a statement, also released today. “The game companies we are negotiating with adamantly refused to allow such an option to exist in the contract.”

As noted previously, many game publishers also do not offer residuals to the many designers, programmers, artists, and other creative laborers who work on a game. The sentiment seems to be that if these members of the development team don’t earn residuals, neither should voice actors. However, residuals are the norm in the entertainment industry, particularly among the Hollywood guilds. Several union members and game industry types with whom I’ve spoken contend that the real argument to be made here is that developers as well as performers should receive residuals.

You can read more about the SAG-AFTRA strike and its goals from the union’s website.

Top image: union picketers outside Electronic Arts on October 24th, 2016. Photo provided by SAG-AFTRA.