Back in February, a union representing voice actors in the Video Game industry, or ‘interactive media’, SAG-AFTRA, met with many large companies (and some small) to discuss the Interactive Media Agreement, founded back in the 1990s.

According to the SAG-AFTRA website, companies present at the meeting were EA Games, Activision, Disney, Warner Bros., and recording studios Blindlight and Formosa. After some polite and spirited back and forth, no agreement was reached. On June 23, SAG-AFTRA set up a second meeting, and they also failed to reach an agreement then. SAG-AFTRA has declared themselves at a cross road.

Roger Craig, Jennifer Hale, and Wil Wheaton have all come out in support of the strike. (via Gamespot)
These notable figures in gaming culture have a large impact on how the public will form their opinion on the encouraged strike, and the union has asked everyone to read the What We Stand For and What We Stand to Lose statements.

In there What We Stand For statement, SAG-AFTRA explains that they have been meeting with several members of the union that are prominent in the industry. According to SAG-AFTRA, only 20 percent of work in the voice acting field is unionized. Because of this, management at the companies hiring voice actors for interactive media can find those working without a union, and as a result cost less for the company.

The statement deals with 4 major issues in the industry, the first of which being Performance Bonuses. The proposal is simple, and would ensure up to 13,200 extra for any actors and actresses that work on a game which exceeds 2 million sales. At the 2 million, 4 million, 6 million, and 8 million copies sold milestones, the actor or actress would receive a bonus 3,300.

The second issue is vocal stress. When an actor or actress does a physically demanding scene, they are paid more and can only record in 2 hour sessions. SAG-AFTRA is attempting to ensure the same for those doing voice work. In the voice acting industry, your voice is everything. Damaging that would cripple your performance, and, quite possibly your career(depending on the extent of the injury). Asking someone to risk their instrument for no extra money and for unlimited time creates a bad work environment for everyone. By bringing up the cost of vocal stress session, and limiting them to 2 hours, actors and actresses alike will reduce their risk to the magical windpipe known as a voice.

Stunt Coordinator on Performance Capture Volume. Working on anything you don’t actually know how to do – or have little experience in – is difficult and stressful; you should never be asked to do something risky on a job without proper supervision. Except, wait, that’s what is happening during these sessions, according to the SAG-AFTRA. A quote from this part of the statement should sum it all up “For example, once, without a stunt coordinator on set, a video game developer tried to do a wire pull – which means he basically made himself jerk really hard and fast across a room – without someone on set to monitor his safety. He, of course, got hurt and couldn’t go back to work for a long while. This is just one instance among many.”

The last topic is transparency. Although some shows (The Walking Dead) are known for a type of blind audition, this is something SAG-AFTRA wants to eliminate in Interactive Media. Unfortunately, a lot of voice actors are never informed as to what they are voice acting unless they land the role. The questions that would be required to answer, are quite reasonable at this moment in time.
“How many sessions are you expecting to book? What rating are you planning to get? Why? Is there offensive content? Will the sessions be vocally stressful? Transparency is key. We deserve to clearly know what we’re getting into before we commit to a role in a game.”

With all of this in mind, its very easy for a company to create a webpage that points everything in their favour. Everyone deserves to have rights that can be enforced in a workplace. However, we have to look at both sides of the bargin, and with that, we move on to the What We Stand to Lose page. This is where SAG-AFTRA is painting the developers, publishers, recorders, essentially anyone who isn’t on their side, like an enemy.

According to SAG-AFTRA, the companies have rejected every proposal that they put on the What We Stand For page. The following list is a proposal from the companies for what they’d like to see changed:

  • Our employers propose to fine you $2,500 if you show up late or are not “attentive to the services for which [you] have been engaged.” This means you could be fined for almost anything: checking an incoming text, posting to your Twitter feed, even zoning out for a second. If a producer feels you are being “inattentive,” they want the option to fine you $2,500.
  • Our employers propose to fine your agent $50,000-100,000 if they don’t send you out on certain auditions (like Atmospheric Voices or One Hour One Voice sessions). And if your agent chooses not to submit you for certain auditions, the employers want it put into contract language that SAG-AFTRA will revoke the agent’s union franchise. This would mean your agency would not be able to send you or anyone else they represent out on any union jobs, including those in animation, TV/Film, Commercials, etc.
  • Our employers don’t believe that Motion and Performance Capture work is covered under this contract. The companies also proposed they be allowed to hire their own employees to play characters in video games without having to join the union.
  • There are other proposals that reduce integration/reuse fees and allow the sunset of Cloud Gaming provisions that rollback the gains we’ve made in previous contracts.

By taking a look at the above statements, we can tell that these companies are treating their employees with disrespect and deserve to be punished.

Wait, they link to a PDF of all the proposed changes… SAG-AFTRA wouldn’t actually twist the words, that was just a tale of caution. I’m sure the company is completely reasonable. And they certainly wouldn’t put it in an area that so many people can read.

Except they did exactly that. Lets look at the first one that SAG-AFTRA pointed out. “Our employers propose to fine you $2,500 if you show up late or are not “attentive to the services for which [you] have been engaged.”” You know what that reads like to an honest, hard working Canadian? You are there to do your job. You have been hired not to text, not to tweet, to record some voice samples so developers can create a game. Put that iPhone on do not disturb, because unless its an emergency or a scheduled break, you are there to earn your money.

Before I go any further, I’d like to make a quick Disclaimer. Human right movements are not wrong, and I agree with getting certain laws in place to protect those who perform legal and morally correct jobs. I strongly believe everyone should know their rights on whatever job they are working, including fast food and retail work. Understanding your rights as an employee, and not abusing them, will lead to a successful career in whatever you chose to do with your life.

I do not, however, agree with over charging for your service, or twisting your words to make companies that you are currently in talks with look wrong. I am not one to defend Corporate America and the way that most companies co-ordinate themselves. However, SAG-AFTRA has used some clever manipulation tactics to make the general population believe there is no way these companies could be right.

North America, in everything that it has become, has evolved into a lazy country that has its mind set on making life easy for ‘me’. If we are asked to work hard for a company, that company is immediately considered a foul creature from the depths of hell.

I would like to, for perhaps the only time in my life, propose to you that the corporations are not the foul creature in this situation. How, though, can someone stand against someone fighting for the rights in a society that only enables those it agrees with? By presenting you with something to help you re-evaluate your opinion on the whole fiasco.

SAG-AFTRA has posted the PDF that [allegedly] details the proposal by the other side on their website. I’m assuming they expect almost no one to read these documents, especially after the way that they twisted what the proposal is saying. Rather then displaying facts, SAG-AFTRA is choosing to trick people into siding with them.

My question, for SAG-AFTRA, is where is your proposal for the companies? By picking and choosing (which, for those of you who went and checked out the PDF, you know how well they can do that) what your argument will be about, you can create for one of the most convincing speeches you will ever give in your life. Until someone comes along and fact checks it. I have checked the What We Stand For page several times, and cannot find a document detailing in all the lawyer mumbo-jumbo what you presented to the companies, as a way of finding common ground.

SAG-AFTRA fighting for the rights of voice actors isn’t the wrong idea. However fighting for only unionized employees is the wrong idea. Many of the proposals – from both sides of the table – only benefits their side of the deal, or people under the union. To ‘fight the good fight’ as one might put it, you must fight for all well being in this situation, not just one to benefit your company. By getting work place laws and codes put in for voice actors, we would see many more benefits then just for one company(SAG-AFTRA).

Do not let one company pull the wool over your eyes to make the other side look less appealing. When someone starts blaming everyone else, chances are they are at fault for some of the problem. Do not this for word, take it as something to think about: Why is SAG-AFTRA is acting the way that they are? Why are they not posting a PDF of what they proposed to the other companies?
I’d encourage you to go read the PDF, the website of SAG-AFTRA, and figure out what you think about this issue. If SAG-AFTRA tries to force a strike, it might put a few video games on hold development wise. This is important to gamers. Don’t let someone tell you it isn’t.

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