SAG-AFTRA Rally Buoys Video Game Strike

Jonathan Handel

The strike began Oct. 21.

About 500 SAG-AFTRA members and supporters on Thursday marched from the union’s Los Angeles headquarters to rally in a nearby park as the performers’ strike against 11 video game companies continued in its fourth month.

“It is the collective voice that keeps us strong,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “Performance matters,” she added, as that same message — the strike’s slogan — was carried through nearby streets by a sign truck and overhead by a banner-toting airplane.

“This about fairness,” said David White, the union’s national executive director. “Many of these companies pay residuals in other forms on other platforms.”

Residuals — or “secondary compensation” — are a key issue in the labor dispute, along with vocal stress, transparency (many performers aren’t told what project they’ll be working on) and stunt coordinators (the union says the companies often fail to hire coordinators when necessary for safety).

Vocal actor Keythe Farley, chair of the union’s Interactive committee, contrasted the management positions on each of those issues with the union’s, with predictable boos for the former and cheers for the latter.

“No way!” said California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski, speaking of the company positions. “Let the lightning strike!”

“Sometime you gotta stand up,” said Los Angeles County Federation of Labor chief Rusty Hicks. “One day longer, one day stronger. We’re behind you.”

“They need to pay their fair share,” said Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu of the video game industry, a roughly $100 billion-per-year business.

But the companies have a different perspective on the strike.

“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 Barnes & Thornburg partner Scott Witlin, chief negotiator for the video game companies. “Indeed, 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. That was an unfortunate position for them as it has only hurt performers who have lost work and who will continue to miss out on new work for as long as the strike continues.”

The marchers at the late-morning event included members of SAG-AFTRA, the WGA, DGA, Actors Equity, IATSE, AFM (musicians) Local 47, Teamsters Local 399 and UNITE HERE.

The strike began Oct. 21 after on-and-off negotiations over the preceding 14 months failed to produce a contract. Not all of the industry is struck, as a number of companies have signed agreements with the union.

AFM Local 47, rapper Murs and Farley provided musical entertainment, with Farley singing a Pete Seeger tune updated to single out several of the key struck companies, including EA, Activision, WB Games and Insomniac.