Troy Baker Says He Didn't Voice Rhys In Borderlands 3 Because 'They Wouldn't Go Union' [Updated]

Earlier this year, Borderlands fans were devastated to learn that actor Troy Baker would not be reprising his role as Rhys in Borderlands 3. At the time, publisher Gearbox’s co-founder Randy Pitchford said Baker “turned it down,” but a recent interview with Baker makes things sound more complicated.

Baker is a beloved voice actor who’s voiced dozens of video game characters including Booker DeWitt from BioShock Infinite, Samuel Drake from Uncharted 4, and Snow in Final Fantasy XIII. Baker is also a member of SAG-AFTRA, the union representing voice actors. In an interview with VG247, Baker says that’s what prevented him from joining the cast for Borderlands 3.

“It was simply a matter of they wouldn’t go union,” Baker told VG247 of Gearbox. He continued:

“I can’t do a non-union gig. And without getting too deep into the weeds of that, we had long conversations about this. We always knew going into it, that this was going to be the thing. They were going to take these characters, and put them from the Tales from the Borderlands series from Telltale, into Borderlands proper. I’ve been waiting for this call. They were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ They never, because they would never move from that position. I’m not mad. It’s invariably a completely different character, but it still stings.”

Baker had previously voiced his desire to reprise the Borderlands role in at least two public instances, VG247 reports. Once, at a Supernova Melbourne panel, Baker said that if Gearbox brought back characters from Telltale’s Borderlands, “It should be the people who originated the characters. They shouldn’t just recast willy-nilly, because as a fan that matters to me.”

Later, in an OnlySP interview, Baker said that he’d “love to come back” and added, “I think it’s interesting that Randy Pitchford tweeted out that I turned it down, and then he said he heard that I turned it down. I would fact-check before I tweeted out to the internet.”

(Pitchford also noted in his April tweet that “With how Rhys appears in the game, I don’t think it actually matters at all. You’ll see for yourself when the game comes out and you may disagree with me on that or not.”)

To remain in solidarity with their union members, SAG-AFTRA members can’t accept work on a production that hasn’t also signed a contract with SAG-AFTRA. SAG-AFTRA voice actors enjoy labour protections like guaranteed minimum rates that boost the labour standards for the industry. A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson had this to say about discussions with Gearbox:

“We applaud any member who stands up for workplace fairness and the integrity of their creative work. It is a courageous decision to act in the best interests of one’s fellow SAG-AFTRA members and this honours all working people.

The misguided decision by Gearbox to deny their performers the opportunity to have fair union wages, a safe workplace and the possibility of health care coverage for their families, is unfortunate.

We attempted to sign Gearbox to a union agreement. They refused and disengaged from those talks.

We look forward to hearing from any Gearbox performer who is interested in the many protections a union agreement offers actors.”

Gearbox provided Kotaku with the following statement:

Troy is an exceptional talent and we were disappointed that he declined to partner on Borderlands 3 after being offered the part. We wish him the best and hope he knows the offer to collaborate with him still stands. Gearbox is a Texas company and is bound by Texas law – which means that a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labour union or other labour organisation.

As a talent-owned and talent-led organisation, Gearbox enthusiastically works to ensure our pay and working conditions meet or exceed union standards. We also believe strongly in hiring local voice actors whenever we can which is why we’re thrilled Troy’s career really took off after working with us.

In response to Gearbox’s statement and questions about why other union actors are voicing Borderlands 3 characters, a SAG-AFTRA representative sent this over:

Gearbox’s reference to Texas law is a non-sequitur. SAG-AFTRA’s contract does not require Gearbox to deny anyone employment based on their union status. In fact, SAG-AFTRA’s contract does not require employers in any state to deny anyone employment based on union status.

We are fully aware of the anti-labour, right-to-work-for-less laws that help explain why Texas has more minimum-wage workers than any state in the Union. Employers in Texas and other right-to-work-for-less states nevertheless routinely work under SAG-AFTRA agreements with no legal obstacle at all. To the extent that Gearbox’s statement reflects legitimate ignorance, Gearbox could easily have asked that question during their discussions with SAG-AFTRA, which they did not. 

If indeed Gearbox meets or exceeds our contract standards in their treatment of performers, which we highly doubt, it would have cost them nothing to sign the union’s agreement and retain the original cast of their game. While SAG-AFTRA does not comment on member discipline matters, we observe that SAG-AFTRA members who work for certain non-union employers not only deprive themselves of the benefits of a union agreement, they lower the standards for all their peers and facilitate the abuse and exploitation of performers.

This story has been updated to include comments from SAG-AFTRA and Gearbox.


Comments

    I think Troy ended up getting the better deal anyway. Rhys in BL3 didn't seem like the Rhys we got to love in Tales.

    I'm not typically a huge fan of unions. that said, sticking to your principles is always good. Don't always agree but, hey.

    The more that comes out about BL3, the more it continues to validate that it was the right decision not to buy it.

    I am enjoying the game immensely, but I'm beginning to wish I hadn't given them my money. I love Borderlands. But this company and this game are not what I fell in love with.

      Right with you on that. The game itself is good, but the studio behind it is questionable at best.

    I am loving the game but the company's (and parent) business practices are highly questionable, just like their abyssal console optimisation. Honestly it is the most fun I have had in a game in recent years, but in some part I have equally regretted my decision to buy.

    Reading other threads about this it sounds like it isn’t that Gearbox (who are shit regardless) refuses union workers, but rather that they have positions that aren’t union protected. Seems that GB have hired union workers before so I don’t really know what the story is.

    I'd like to know what their remuneration package entails and how it actually compares to the union "minimums" before making a judgment on this. If they're specifically doing this to "cheap out" then that sucks. But it's also possible they're actually offering a decent deal, just not union.

      Given the demands from the voice actor strike, I wouldn't be surprised if the main point of disagreement is residuals. The game publishers don't want to budge there because then everyone will want a share of the profits (which isn't such a bad thing). If that is the main difference in the contracts, then it could be quite hard to say which is a better deal too.

      Further to last message: it definitely isn't to do with residuals: the union gave up on that after the strike. The union contracts for game developers can be found here:

      https://www.sagaftra.org/production-center/contract/820/agreement/document

      It's a little muddled because the 2017 contract just shows changes to the 2011-2014 contract. It doesn't prohibit non-union workers (something that would be illegal under US law). It does require that the developer apply the contract minimum rates to all voice actors too: not just the union ones.

      It also includes provisions for the developer to make contributions to the SAG-AFTRA health plan and superannuation funds.

      If Gearbox was willing to provide all of this, then there isn't much reason not to sign the contract.

        I guess it could hinge on those contributions then. If they're hiring the guy for what is possibly only a couple days work I could understand reluctance to pay towards a health plan and super.

        Don't get me wrong I think super is great. It's just kinda a weird scenario when you have an employee who only works for a couple days/weeks not months/years. I know where I used to work (in Australia so the situation could be different) we'd hire contractors for short term work and we paid them a flat rate that was negotiated. We didn't pay their super or holiday allowances and other sundries. They were expected to self fund that. The contractors were always on a higher hourly rate than permanent employees in similar roles because of that difference.

        Maybe they view this situation in a similar light?

    That "Texas Law" statement by Gearbox is fucking embarrassing. They genuinely are incompetent enough to believe that is a genuine excuse, but also have frequently shown themselves to be malicious shitheads, so who knows if they were lying or just idiots in this instance.

    Yeah, those statements in the update reflect very poorly on Gearbox.

    Dick move, guys.

    Of course, they signed exclusivity with Epic, so we already knew they're not pro-consumer, but now we know they don't support workers, either.

    The guy who took over for him is part of SAG-AFTRA, as is Ashley Burch. Seems weird. From what I gather working on non-union jobs is highly discouraged or flat out disallowed if you're in the union?

      That's how the union statements read to me. Basically: be it on your own head if you scab ("member discipline matters"), and thanks to Troy for standing with the union, because that's what makes unions strong.

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