Following a unanimous decision by the SAG-AFTRA National Board to send a strike authorization vote to its members in early September, 98% of voting members voted in favor of a strike authorization on the 2017 Interactive Media Agreement (IMA). Notably, a vote authorizing a strike does not guarantee a work stoppage – rather, it gives the union the ability to call a strike under the IMA as the union may deem necessary.
The IMA governs certain member work in connection with video games, such as voiceover recording, motion capture, and stunt performances. Signatories to the IMA include large video game companies, such as Activision, Electronic Arts, and Disney – to name a few.
The IMA was first negotiated in 1993 by AFTRA (prior to its merger with SAG in 2003) to cover video game performances. Since its inception, the IMA has been renegotiated and extended throughout the years, with the most recent amendment being the 2017-2020 IMA, which incorporated key provisions of the 2011-2014 IMA and formalized a single IMA after SAG-AFTRA’s merger. The 2017 IMA has been extended twice, first into 2022 and then again into 2023. SAG-AFTRA has been engaged in negotiations with IMA signatories since October 2022 and until notice of termination, the IMA is on a day-to-day extension while negotiations continue.
To date, SAG-AFTRA and video game companies have engaged in five rounds of bargaining but have yet to finalize an agreement. Another bargaining session will span September 26th through the 28th where the union and video game companies will come to the table to negotiate the terms of what may become the new 2023 IMA. From statements released by SAG-AFTRA leadership, it appears the union is concerned primarily with wages and the potentially “exploitative” use of artificial intelligence.
It will be interesting to see if the tentative deal reached between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in the current and historic writers strike has any bearing on the negotiation of the IMA (which tentative deal touches on similar concerns SAG-AFTRA has in connection with the IMA).
Notably, a strike under the IMA would not be the first. Indeed, in October 2016, SAG-AFTRA members went on strike against a number of large video game companies for a little over a year with negotiations concluding in November 2017. The parties concluded those negotiations in 2017 by agreeing, in part, that members would be provided with: (i) increased compensation (via a tiered bonus system based on the number of recording sessions in which a principal performer’s performance is used in a game with a certain number of principal performer sessions); (ii) certain information in connection with the roles to be performed (including whether the role would include profanity, racial slurs, sexual or violent overtures, or physical stunts); and (iii) standard increases to minimum rates and pension and health contributions. The 2016-2017 IMA strike was the longest in SAG history.
We are following updates on the current negotiations of the IMA closely. Stay tuned.