On October 24, more than 350 picketers turned out for a rally and picket line at EA offices in Playa Vista, Calif. in response to failed negotiations with video gaming companies that union officials say have been unwilling to meet even close to where the needs of its members are.
The strike involves the following video game employers: Activision Publishing, Inc.; Blindlight, LLC; Corps of Discovery Films; Disney Character Voices, Inc.; Electronic Arts Productions, Inc.; Formosa Interactive, LLC; Insomniac Games, Inc.; Interactive Associates, Inc.; Take 2 Interactive Software; VoiceWorks Productions, Inc.; and WB Games, Inc. The strike applies to games that went into production after February 17, 2015, for the aforementioned employers.
In a statement issued in early October by the union, SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said, “Through many months of bargaining with interactive employers, we have not reached a fair agreement covering SAG-AFTRA performers working in video games – often the most popular games in the world. Our members have been clear, now is the time for employers to negotiate a modern contract that covers this highly profitable industry.
“A strike is not to be entered into lightly, but when the employers leave us with no recourse, we must stand firm for our members. It is imperative that we secure for them the protections, compensation and benefits they deserve,” Carteris added.
The Union’s Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez noted that members working in the video game industry were negotiating to reach a fair contract, but that progress had essentially been stalled for more than a year.
“We need a contract that fits the needs of our members working in video games,” said Rodriguez. “So far employers have been unwilling to meet us even close to where the needs of our members are.”
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka made the following statement regarding the SAG-AFTRA Video Game Strike:
The AFL-CIO stands in solidarity with the SAG-AFTRA voice-over and motion-capture performers who are on strike after failed negotiations with eleven video game employers. Performers deserve a modern contract that offers the protections necessary to work in today’s video game industry.
No one wants a strike. But, for nearly two years video game employers have been unwilling to meet basic demands necessary to bring this collective bargaining agreement up to the standards of other mature industry contracts. We urge video game employers to negotiate in good faith and work with SAG-AFTRA to bargain a fair agreement. ■
“A critical part of the safety net is being both attacked and eroded in no small measure because there are no federal minimum standards for workers’ compensation”
— DOL Secretary Tom Perez
A recent U.S. Department of Labor report lays out in gory detail the problems with workers’ compensation programs in the U.S., noting that those hurt on the job are at “great risk of falling into poverty” because state workers’ compensation systems are failing to provide them with adequate benefits. Unfortunately, the DOL has no oversight of workers’ compensation programs and has not monitored state compliance since 2004 because of cutbacks.
According to the report, more than 30 states have changed their workers’ compensation laws since 2003, favoring employers far more than workers. In most instances, states have decreased benefits to injured workers, created hurdles to medical care, raised the burden of proof to qualify for help and shifted costs to public programs, such as Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.
Employers are reaping the rewards—the cost of insurance has decreased dramatically and insurance companies are paying their overages back to corporations in the form of dividends. Since 1988, the average cost to employer has declined from $3.42 for every $100 paid in wages to $1.85 per $100.
“With this report, we’re sounding an alarm bell,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said in an interview with ProPublica, which had published a series of articles with NPR on the issue over the past year and a half (https://www.propublica.org/series/workers-compensation).
The Grand Bargain
Workers’ compensation was created more than 100 years ago. It was a response to challenging and horrific workplace injuries which left workers devastated and employers vulnerable to lawsuits. Labor and business compromised: workers injured on the job gave up the right to sue their employers for personal injury damages in return for less generous but more certain benefits, guaranteed pay and medical care. The compromise became known as The Grand Bargain.
In 1972, The National Commission on State Workmen’s Compensation Laws in its final report to Congress noted that “in general, workmen’s compensation programs provide cash benefits which are inadequate.”
Now, with the rollbacks of the laws’ protections, the programs are not only inadequate, they are a burden on injured workers and on taxpayers. In fact, in some instances, employers have set up a system that require workplace injuries be reported before the end of a shift, which leads to a denial of a claim of injury that only becomes apparent after leaving work or even a few days later.
“A critical part of the safety net is being both attacked and eroded in no small measure because there are no federal minimum standards for workers’ compensation,” said Perez.
In 1972, the National Commission agreed on five basic objectives for workers’ compensation programs: broad coverage of employees and work-related injuries and diseases; substantial protection against interruption of income; provision of sufficient medical care and rehabilitation services; encouragement of safety; and an effective system for delivery of the benefits and services.
No Federal Oversight Leads to State Cuts
Compliance with the report’s recommendations increased substantially over the next decade, despite no federal law compelling compliance. By the mid 1980s, though, states realized that federal intervention to enforce the Report’s recommendations was not forthcoming, and the rollbacks began.
No one was paying attention except the employers reaping the rewards and the legislatures responding to lobbyists who pushed for changes.
During the recession, states used the rolled back laws to attract businesses to their states.
Twenty-two states now set arbitrary time limits on injured workers’ temporary wage benefits. Ten states allow “independent medical reviews” of workers’ compensation claims to assess the recommendations of the injured workers’ doctors. Ten states have also increased the use of pre-existing conditions to limit or deny care after workplace injuries. There are now 37 states that restrict a workers’ ability to choose their doctor. In 18 states, employers can select the physician who treats their injured workers at least initially, according to the Workers Compensation Research Institute. In another 19 states, the injured worker is required to choose from a list of doctors — sometimes as few as four — approved by their state, insurer or employer.
“Again and again, American workers are being robbed of their rights, health protections and fair compensation,” said Rich Kline, president of the Union Label Department. “This is just another example of how the anti-government, anti-regulation agenda pushed by big business is fragmenting our laws and destroying working families in the process. No one should be pushed into poverty because they are injured on the job.”
“If you work in a full-time job, you ought to be able to put food on the table,” said Perez. “If you get hurt on that job, you still should be able to put food on the table, and these laws are really undermining that basic bargain.”
“I hope that Congress will step up,” he added. “We have to fix this system.” ■
Renita Smith, a school bus driver in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and a member of ACE-AFSCME Local 2250, was honored recently by students and school system officials as a hero after she saved 20 children when her bus caught fire September 12.
Smith, a 17-year veteran driver in Prince George’s County, acted quickly when she smelled smoke and then saw flames while driving her daily route in the suburban Maryland neighborhood.
When asked about the ordeal, Smith said that she realized that calling in to her supervisor wasn’t going to help solve the crisis, so she put the radio down and “got my babies up and in a straight line in aisle. I had them hold hands.”
Smith then led all 20 children off the bus and to safety, far away from the smoke and flames. Then, without hesitation, Smith went back onto the bus to make sure no child had been left behind.
“There wasn’t a bus attendant with me that day to do the count,” said Smith. “So I knew I had to go back on the bus to make sure I got all my babies.”
Smith says she was just doing her job. But Prince George’s County School CEO Kevin Maxwell said, “To get off that bus and to go back again to make sure that everybody was safely off the bus is heroic.”
Students that were on the bus that day agreed, calling Smith “our hero,” during an assembly held in her honor.
But Smith brushed off the praise. “As I’m driving that bus, they’re my babies,” she said. “I’m their mom until I drop them off to their biological moms.”
The IAFF is the driving force behind nearly every advance in the fire and emergency services in the 21st century. With headquarters in Washington, DC, and Ottawa, Ontario, the IAFF represents more than 300,000 full-time professional fire fighters and paramedics in more than 3,100 affiliates. IAFF members protect more than 85 percent of the population in communities throughout the United States and Canada.
The IAFF is governed by an executive board that is chaired by General President, Harold Shaitberger, and consists of the General Secretary-Treasurer and 16 District Vice Presidents. The board is responsible for all policy decisions and is influential in providing beneficial services to members of the International. ■