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SAG Rank and File Getting Final Say on Games Pact

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SAG's video game contract will get another, final shot at life after the national board voted Wednesday to let members decide its fate.

The vote to accept or reject the contract will be put to the 1,900 members who regularly work in this field as well as any other paid-up member who requests a ballot. A "no" vote would leave SAG where it is now, with no jurisdiction in the field and with sister guild AFTRA poised to capitalize on that opportunity because it already has accepted the 31/2-year agreement.

The referendum also seeks to remedy the industrywide impression that the union won't necessarily keep its word after shaking hands across the bargaining table.

At the insistence of national executive director Greg Hessinger, the referendum is open to all SAG members because they could find themselves doing voice-over and other performance work as the $25 billion industry continues to grow.

To facilitate the process, the producers, which include Electronic Arts, Activision and other leading game makers, have extended the contract offer to July 31.

SAG's board has elected not to take a stand on the contract, which has generated fierce infighting over the inability to achieve residual payments and the decision not to strike over it. Ballots will go out July 13 and are due back July 28.

The emergency meeting was called to address the national executive committee's unprecedented decision to reject the pact on political grounds. Wednesday's four-hour session was said to be as acrimonious as ever, but no effort was made to simply overrule the NEC, which is made up of about one-third of the full board.

The 13-11 vote -- 21 that doomed the contract fell along party lines even though both sides were disappointed about the residual issue.

Early caucus votes showed members willing to strike when the threat was being used as a bargaining tool. A formal strike referendum later failed to get the required 75% support of affected SAG members or 66.6% of AFTRA's members.

That forced negotiators back to the table, where they reluctantly took a slightly sweetened deal and unanimously recommended that it be approved by the NEC.

Lead negotiator Michael Bell has complained that the elected leadership did not do more to help convince members of the need to strike.

The committee's decision to subsequently reject the contract stunned observers because what normally is a formality had become the latest battleground.

Members of president Melissa Gilbert's camp have accused their rivals of being reckless in order to gain points for the fall election, which could give opponents control of the union.

There also is concern that ongoing talks on a television animation contract and an upcoming basic cable agreement will suffer a similar fate, with strike demands being made for purely political reasons.

Although it does not include residuals, the proposed Interactive Media Agreement would boost wages for voice-over and other performers by 36% over the terms of the 31â „2-year contract, beginning with an immediate 25% hike. The actors also received increases in benefits and greater work protection.

As a result, actors would earn $759 for a daily, four-hour voice-over session by the end of the contract. Also, double-time will be paid after six hours; previously, it kicked in after 10 hours.

Other gains include a 7.5% increase in contributions to the unions' benefit plan to 14.3%. The unions also made 15%-25% gains in rates for remote delivery and integration.

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