SAG-AFTRA video game actors could strike over AI concerns and wage demands

"Once again artificial intelligence is putting our members in jeopardy of reducing their opportunity to work."

SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents a number of voice actors and performers plying their trade in the game industry, has called for strike action.

Over the weekend, SAG-AFTRA's National Board voted unanimously to send a strike authorization vote to union members, who will have from September 5 to September 25 to decide whether to back the move.

SAG-AFTRA has a contract called the 'Interactive Media (Video Games) Agreement' that covers performers working with signatory companies, including Activision, EA, Epic Games, WB Games, and Insomniac Games.

The union has been attempting to renegotiate the terms of that contract to better reflect the "value [performers] bring to the multi-billion dollar gaming industry," but said talks have reached a stalemate.

Crucially, SAG-AFTRA is seeking protections to combat the threat of AI: a retroactive 11 percent wage increase for performers that will see them earn the same as those working under film and television contracts; the ability for on-camera performers to have the same five-minutes-per-hour rest period that off-camera performers are entitled to; and for on-set medics to be present during hazardous stunt work.

"Here we go again! Now our Interactive (Video Game) Agreement is at a stalemate too. Once again we are facing employer greed and disrespect. Once again artificial intelligence is putting our members in jeopardy of reducing their opportunity to work. And once again, SAG-AFTRA is standing up to tyranny on behalf of its members," said SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher.

"The overlap of these two SAG-AFTRA contracts is no coincidence, but rather a predictable issue impacting our industry as well as others all over the world. The disease of greed is spreading like wildfire ready to burn workers out of their livelihoods and humans out of their usefulness. We at SAG-AFTRA say NO! Not on our watch!"

On the issue of AI, specifically, SAG-AFTRA wants to update its contract with protective language that will require informed consent and appropriate payment for the creation and use of digital replicas and for training AI systems with members' performances. Without those protections in place, the union claims AI poses an "enormous threat" to performance-capture artists.

"Voice and performance capture AI are already among the most advanced uses of AI: the threat is here and it is real. Without contractual protections, the employers are asking performers to unknowingly participate in the extinction of their artistry and livelihoods," said SAG-AFTRA national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

It's important to note that a successful strike authorization vote doesn't initiate a strike, but it does permit the National Board to declare a strike if it feels video game companies aren't negotiating in good faith with SAG-AFTRA.

Speaking to Axios about the looming threat of strike action, Audrey Cooling, a representative for those companies negotiating with SAG-AFTRA, said they hope to reach a "mutually beneficial deal as soon as possible."

"We all want a fair contract that reflects the important contributions of SAG-AFTRA-represented performers in an industry that delivers world-class entertainment to billions of players around the world," added Cooling.

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