Quality assurance workers at Activision Blizzard studio Raven Software have voted to unionize, becoming the first group to do so at a major gaming publisher in North America. The National Labor Relations Board counted the votes on Monday: 19 workers voted for the union and three against. Two ballots were challenged, although they were not enough to influence the outcome. There were 28 eligible voters and no invalid ballots.
In December, 60 employees (including contractors and full-time workers) of the Call of Duty support studio went on strike after 12 QA testers were fired. They demanded that the company hire those workers back. The strike ended the following month, but not before the QA workers announced plans to join the Communication Workers of America (CWA). When they got back to work, Raven split them up into different departments, in an apparent effort to make their union efforts more difficult.
The workers asked Activision Blizzard to voluntarily recognize their union, which they called the Game Workers Alliance. However, the company declined to do so. Last month, the National Labor Relations Board gave workers the green light to hold union elections.
“Activision did everything it could, including breaking the law, to prevent the Raven QA employees from forming their union. It failed and we are delighted to welcome them as CWA members,” CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “Quality assurance staff at Raven Software are bringing much-needed change to Activision and to the video game industry. At this critical time for the company and its employees, these workers will soon have an enforceable union contract and a voice at work.”
Activision Blizzard has been accused of union breakdown. Last July, the law firm hired WilmerHale, which has reportedly been making efforts to stamp out union action at Amazon and other companies, to review its personnel policies. It also shared anti-union messages in the company’s Slack channels.
In April, Activision Blizzard said it was hiring 1,100 QA employees full-time, increasing their pay and providing benefits in many cases. However, it claimed that the Raven QA employees were ineligible “due to legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act”.
Earlier on Monday, the NRLB determined that Activision Blizzard had violated the National Labor Relations Act. The company alleged that the company threatened employees who wanted to organize themselves and imposed a “general social media policy.”
Activision Blizzard is being acquired by Microsoft for $68.7 billion, pending regulatory approval. Microsoft has said it “will not stand in the way of Activision Blizzard recognizing a union”. The company told Axios in March that it “respects the right of Activision Blizzard employees to choose whether to be represented by a labor organization and we will respect those decisions.”
In December, workers at indie studio Vodeo Workers formed the first video game union in the US. Management has voluntarily recognized Vodeo Workers United. Workers at studios outside of North America have also joined unions, including Paradox Interactive in Sweden and Japanese-Korean publisher Nexon. Meanwhile, QA staff at BioWare contractor Keywords Studios in Edmonton, Alberta, are trying to unite.
The Game Workers Alliance has provided Engadget with the following statement:
Five months ago, we formed the Game Workers Alliance-CWA based on the principles of solidarity, sustainability, transparency, fairness and diversity. Activision Blizzard worked tirelessly to undermine our efforts to create our union, but we persevered. Now that we have won our elections, it is our duty to protect these fundamental values on which our union stands. Our greatest hope is that our union will inspire the growing movement of workers organizing in video game studios to make better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower us all. We look forward to working with management to positively shape our working conditions and the future of Activision Blizzard through a strong union contract.
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