Troy Baker Turned-Down Reprising Borderlands 3’s Rhys Because Gearbox “Wouldn’t Go Union”

Troy Baker has revealed why he did not reprise his role of Rhys in Borderlands 3, and that it was due to Gearbox Software refusing to “go union.”

In case you missed our prior report, Baker announced he would not reprise the character of Rhys Strongfork in Borderlands 3. The character originally appeared in Tales of the Borderlands. Originally Baker claimed he did not know he was not getting the role until after a trailer with the character dropped, while Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford claimed that Baker turned the role down.

Baker further refuted Pitchford’s claims in an interview with Only Single Player, with Baker almost saying Pitchford was not telling the truth.“I said I would love to come back. […] [Gearbox Software] said I’m not coming back. Their timeline tells an interesting story. 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.”

VG247 spoke to Baker during a fan event Retro Replay (Baker’s and Nolan North’s let’s play YouTube channel). Asking about the situation, Baker spoke more openly about being offered the role, but something made it impossible:

“So they came to me, and they were like, ‘Do you want to do this?’ Which I said, ‘Absolutely.’ And then they made it impossible for me to do the role. It had nothing to do with money, it had nothing to do with money. They just simply would not go about doing it the way that we needed it to be done. So then it was like, I never said no.

[…] No [it was not due to scheduling conflicts], it was simply a matter of they wouldn’t go union, and 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.”

Gearbox sent a statement to VG247, claiming the issue was due to Texas law. Texas Right-To-Work laws state: “Under the Texas Labor Code, a person cannot be denied employment because of membership or non-membership in a labor union or other labor organization.” Gearbox claims this means they could not hire exclusively union voice actors.

“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 labor union or other labor organization.

As a talent-owned and talent-led organization, 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.”

The voice acting union SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) also issued a statement to Polygon, corroborating that Gearbox “refused and disengaged” from union talks. “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.”

However, SAG-AFTRA later issued statements to VG247, refuting Gearbox’s defense under Texas law:

“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-labor, 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.”

VG247 sent a additional correspondence, asking “what barriers existed that prevented Gearbox from accepting the union’s terms, and what exactly those terms would have been.” SAG-AFTRA’s Chief Contracts Officer Ray Rodriguez replied that they never asked Gearbox to use union only actors, only that all actors & actresses be treated “with the same fairness;” a term Gearbox refused.

“Gearbox was unwilling to sign the contract and bind themselves to honoring those standards as reflected in a SAG-AFTRA contract. They claim to adhere to those standards anyway, but we have no way to verify that, and, in any event, a non-binding commitment to treat and pay workers fairly is not enough. Workers deserve the protection of an actual contract.

Our contracts do not and cannot provide different terms and conditions for workers based on whether they are members of the union. Non-members would enjoy all the same contract benefits as members, whether in Texas or any other state. Nor would the contract prevent them from hiring non-union actors.”

Baker has also been omitted from roles before, including Yuri Lowell in Tales of Vesperia: Definitive EditionHowever, he is also slated to appear in The Last of Us: Part II and Death Stranding.

SAG-AFTRA also organized the voice actor’s strike in 2016. While this ended after 11 months, many began to speculate if some had been ousted from prominent roles because of it; starting with David Hayter being replaced by Keifer Sutherland as Big Boss in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. While Hayter was involved with the strike, there were allegedly other factors surrounding his replacement.

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Ryan was a former Niche Gamer contributor.