“Hey, hey shut it down! LA is a union town!”
This was just one of the battle cries resounding off the glassy facade of Electronic Arts’ LA office on Monday. Last week, the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) declared a strike against several major video game companies, and on Oct. 24, more than 300 people gathered to picket one of those employers.
“After 19 months of trying to come up with some sort of compromise, we were forced into this position,” said Crispin Freeman, a voice actor who has worked on a number of titles, including “Overwatch,” “Destiny,” and “Elder Scrolls Online”. “This has been the longest negotiation process of any SAG-AFTRA contract, and after awhile, there’s nothing else we can do.”
Union President Gabrielle Carteris spoke at the event clad in a simple SAG-AFTRA tee, and she immediately addressed the game companies’ allegations that the union walked out of negotiations over terminology.
“So our employers are getting together today and saying, ‘you know what, we don’t want to see the strike. It’s a matter of terminology.’ It is not a matter of terminology,” Carteris said. “It is a matter of dignity and fairness.'”
Phil LaMarr, of “Family Guy” fame, spoke next, highlighting union members’ concerns of safety and respect, then addressing the game companies’ proposed compensation package, which union members found uncompromising.
“If you want to use the pool of professional artists that every other entertainment industry uses, this is how you do it,” LaMarr said to cheers, referencing the union’s proposed payment structure.
“We never came in asking for some huge salary increase,” Freeman said. “We asked to know what we were working on… we wanted them to understand that screaming ‘grenade’ for four hours can make us bleed from the throat.”
This was the case for Steve Blum, who has worked on games such as “World of Warcraft”, “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided”, and more recently, “Batman: The Telltale Series”.
“I’ve bled from the throat. I’ve thrown up in the booth. I’ve passed out in the booth. And that’s where my interest began in this whole situation.”
But Blum’s stake in the strike has expanded, he explained, sharing that his son, who is an actor, was in attendance at the picket.
“I want him to be safe,” Blum said. “And I care about his well-being and all of his friends and all of the new people coming into this industry.”
Jennifer Hale, the actress known for her role as Commander Shepard in the Mass Effect series, but who was not in attendance at the picket, shared this sentiment, saying that this is a fight for future generations of actors, not just today’s.
“My stake [in this strike] is the future on a number of levels — the future of everyone who comes after me,” Hale said. “It’s heartbreaking to me that people coming up are in jeopardy of not making enough money to support their families.”
The union livestreamed an hour of the picket, and you can watch it on SAG-AFTRA’s Facebook page.
We’ll continue to update the story as it develops…
Photo credits: SAG-AFTRA