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Voice Actors Reach Video Game Deal

The tentative contract with publishers provides for increases in benefit payments and a 36% rise in minimum wages.

June 09, 2005|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Negotiators representing actors who voice characters in video games reached a tentative contract settlement with game publishers late Wednesday, ending a lengthy dispute over how much actors should be paid.

The contract provides for a 36% rise in minimum wages paid over 3 1/2 years and various benefit increases. But it does not grant any form of residuals on top-selling games, a demand companies had fought.

The roughly 2,000 actors affected are represented by the Screen Actors Guild and its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. National leaders of both unions must sign off on the proposed agreements before they take effect July 1, but member ratification is not required.

"While we did not get all we want and deserve, this contract is another important step in building artists' power in this growing sector," AFTRA President John Connolly said.

SAG President Melissa Gilbert said the negotiating committee accepted the offer "with great reluctance" but concluded it was in the best interest of members. She vowed to step up game organizing.

Howard Fabrick, who led negotiations on behalf of game publishers, called the agreement a "win for both sides."

The settlement was announced a day after the deadline for actors to vote on whether to authorize a strike. Vote results were not released.

Supporters of a possible strike would have had a high threshold to meet. At least 75% of the SAG members who received ballots had to support the measure, along with at least two-thirds of the AFTRA members affected.

Two sources familiar with the count, who asked not to be identified, said that the strike authorization received a majority of votes but fell well short of the required numbers.

Tensions have been mounting since talks broke down last month largely over whether actors should share in profits for hit games, prompting speculation of a strike.

But some union members openly argued that actors lacked the kind of clout needed to financially damage the industry.

Also skeptical have been analysts who predicted that a strike would have little effect on the companies. Most of the games for 2005 have already been developed, analysts note, and companies would have little difficulty finding replacement workers.

Actors have been seeking a bigger cut of the $25-billion game industry's sales. The industry adamantly opposes paying residuals in addition to flat fees, arguing that actors play a small role in the development of games and don't drive sales the way they do in movies.

Union negotiators previously rejected an offer from the eight game publishers, which include Electronic Arts and Activision Inc. The companies offered a 35% increase in the rate for voice-over actors, to $750 from $556 per four-hour session, by 2008.

The agreement reached Wednesday would increase the rate to $759 over the same period, with an immediate 25% increase to $695. It also includes a 7.5% increase in contributions to the unions' benefits plans.

Publishers balked at the unions' proposal calling for workers to receive extra money when games sell more than 400,000 units.

SAG and AFTRA have never struck the video game industry. Their last walkout came in 2000 during a six-month strike against advertisers.

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