After months of organizing, the quality assurance testers of Raven Software, a division of gaming giant Activision Blizzard, have voted to unionize. This is the first union at a major gaming company in the US
Administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the vote passed 19-3 and two ballots were contested, so a total of 24 of the 28 eligible workers voted.
These workers announced in December that they planned to unionize just days after Microsoft announced its plans to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, marking one of the largest technology acquisitions in history. would be. But when news of the impending acquisition became public, these quality assurance (QA) testers — who mostly work on Call of Duty — had been on strike for about five weeks, protesting the layoffs of 12 contractors.
“On December 3, about a third of my department was informed that their contracts would be terminated early. And this came from five weeks of overtime, consistent work,” Raven Software QA tester Onah Rongstad told businesstraverse.com at the time, explaining the intent to organize. our day-to-day work and our critical role in the game industry as QA.”
This five-week overtime that Rongstad describes is referred to in the gaming industry as “crunch,” which is often cited as a huge cause of burnout and stress for gamers. The union, which goes by the name Game Workers Alliance and is represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), can now try to negotiate with their employer to introduce rules that circumvent “crunch” or unexpected layoffs.
But the problems run deeper at Activision Blizzard, which employs some 10,000 people. After a two-year investigation, the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard in July, claiming the company fostered a “frat boy” work culture and calling it “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” Plus, CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly knew it for years about sexual misconduct and allegations of rape in his company, but he did not act. Kotick has been rumors of resignation amid ongoing SEC investigations and sexual harassment scandals in his company, but that can only happen after the acquisition of Microsoft closes in 2023if it is.
When the Game Workers Alliance filed a union election, Activision Blizzard tried to block the election by claiming that each union must include all 230 employees of Raven Software, which would have made it harder for the QA testers to win a vote. But the NLRB ruled that the QA department itself could vote to become unions.
“Activision did everything it could, including breaking the law, to prevent the Raven QA employees from forming their union. It didn’t work and we are delighted to welcome them as CWA members,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens.
Activision Blizzard has since made some effort to improve working conditions. In April, the company converted about 1,100 QA contractors to full-time staffers and raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour. But Activision Blizzard claimed that laws under the National Labor Relations Act prevented the company from changing its employees’ pay amid a union effort. However, the CWA said that this is a “unfairAttempted union breakdown. Then, yesterday, the NLRB found that among another group of workers, Activision Blizzard illegally threatened personnel and enforced a social media policy limiting workers’ rights to collective action.
“Our greatest hope is that our union will inspire the growing movement of workers organizing in video game studios to create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and make us all stronger,” the Game Workers Alliance said in a statement. .
Last year, the indie studio with 13 employees Vodeo Games became the first certified gaming union in North America. Now that a major gaming studio has been successfully unionized, perhaps more attempts to unionize will follow.
“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether to support a union or not to vote. We believe an important decision that will affect the entire Raven Software studio of approximately 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees,” said an Activision Blizzard spokesperson.
Activision Blizzard may object within five business days. But since the NLRB has already ruled that the 28-strong QA department had the right to organize itself independently of the rest of Raven Software, the decision is unlikely to be reversed on those grounds.