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Voice actors to strike Friday if new contract isn't reached

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Union, publishers at odds over pay, secrecy provisions

One of the largest unions representing voice actors set a strike date for Friday if ongoing negotiations with major video game publishers fail to produce a an acceptable contract by then.

SAG-AFTRA — the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — set the strike date yesterday evening, drawing a strongly worded reply from a representative for publishers ranging from Electronic Arts to Activision and Take-2 Interactive Software.

The union voted on Oct. 7 to strike; more than 96 percent of its membership supported that decision, which gave SAG-AFTRA's National Board the option to declare the strike yesterday.

A statement on behalf of several publishers chided SAG-AFTRA for breaking a "mutually agreed upon 'news blackout' on negotiation discussions" and said a strike would be a self-defeating gesture.

The statement said a strike "will only harm their membership," noting that SAG-AFTRA members appear in about a quarter of video games on the market. "Any strike would not only deny SAG-AFTRA's membership work, but this would also give their competitors, who do not engage union talent, a leg up while any strike would be in place."

Union actors may represent a small portion of total voice work in video games but some of the biggest names, performing in some of the highest-profile releases, are among them. David Hayter, until recently the longtime voice of Snake in Metal Gear Solid, and Jennifer Hale, known as the voice of Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, both showed support for a strike.

Negotiations are underway today through Wednesday. A strike would forbid union members from working on games for Activision, Disney, Electronic Arts, Insomniac, Take-2, WB Games and five other employers. The strike covers any game that went into production after Feb. 17, 2015.

Contingent compensation (meaning a specific condition set by the two parties has been met) is one sticking point. It's a common practice in motion pictures; SAG-AFTRA actors are insisting on it for video games.

The publishers' statement said that upcoming video games "are already in production and the majority will be unaffected by any SAG-AFTRA strike, due to the nature of the 'no strike provisions' of the collective bargaining agreement.

"We anticipate minimal impact on current and near-future game releases," the statement said.

In a statement released by SAG-AFTRA Sunday night, the union's president, Gabrielle Carteris, called on games publishers "to negotiate a modern contract that covers this highly profitable industry."

The union and publisher are at odds over how agents participate in auditions, provisions that fine voice actors for poor work. A list of its demands may be read here.

Notably, SAG-AFTRA wants its members to be able to know the name of a game they would be working on before accepting a job — which would be a huge concession in an industry that obsesses over keeping new development secret and tightly manages information about new games before they go on sale.