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As strike drags on, SAG-AFTRA puts pressure on video game companies

SAG-AFTRA is stepping up pressure on video game companies to resolve a protracted strike against the makers of such blockbuster game series as “Call of Duty” and “Madden NFL.”

Hollywood’s largest union on Thursday staged the biggest rally to date in the three-month strike. An estimated crowd of close to 500 protesters assembled in front of SAG-AFTRA headquarters and proceeded a short distance on Wilshire Boulevard toward an open field near the the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“It is the collective voice that keeps us strong,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said at the rally. She said the union’s existing contract with the gaming companies “was not fair.”

The contract expired in 2014, but performers kept working under it as negotiations dragged on. The dispute focuses on disagreements over compensation and safety for actors who perform voice and motion-capture work.

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SAG-AFTRA is seeking a new compensation structure that would allow actors to start receiving residual-like payments based on a game’s commercial success. It is also asking for improved safety conditions for voice and motion-capture work.

The video game companies have balked at the pay demand, arguing that their industry is fundamentally different from Hollywood, where residuals for actors are commonplace.

The strike, which began Oct. 21, targets 11 companies, including divisions of Activision Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Take Two, Insomniac Games, Warner Bros. and Disney.

The two sides haven’t budged from their respective positions since talks fell apart in the fall. SAG-AFTRA said Thursday that it has signed 12 other game companies to its proposal, but the union declined to reveal the names of those companies, describing them as small and independent.

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The purpose of the rally was “to get people refocused that the strike is happening,” Ray Rodriguez, chief contracts officer at SAG-AFTRA, said in an interview. He said the union is showing its influence by signing with other companies. “There’s plenty of leverage on both sides.”

But the 11 companies that are the focus of the strike show no signs that they will compromise.

“We remain disappointed that SAG-AFTRA leadership remains focused on outmoded ideas about how compensation is structured rather than the real dollars and cents that the video game companies put on the table,” said Scott Witlin, chief negotiator for the companies and a partner at Barnes & Thornburg.

“We offered more money than SAG-AFTRA demanded in an attempt to avoid this strike. The union leaders walked away from real gains in order to try to fit this business into an old mold,” Witlin said.

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SAG-AFTRA is asking for a bonus compensation structure that would allow actors to receive additional payments for every 2 million copies or downloads sold, with a cap at 8 million sales.

But the video game companies have refused, proposing instead a 9% wage increase, which would accelerate the 3% annual increase sought by SAG-AFTRA over a three-year period.

They were also offering additional upfront compensation of as much as $950 per game based on the number of sessions a performer works on a particular title.

Since declaring the strike in October, SAG-AFTRA has picketed Electronic Arts in Playa Vista and Warner Bros. in Burbank.

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L.A. City Councilman David Ryu said that video game companies “need to pay their fair share” and told protesters that “you should not give in.”

david.ng@latimes.com

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT


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