Late yesterday, after months of action, employees at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted successfully to be recognized as a union. Named the Game Workers’ Alliance, the union is one of the first in the US videogames industry. 22 employees voted in the election, with a total of 19 votes in favor of the union, and three against.
At the end of last year, Activision Blizzard laid off QA testers from Raven Software, a contributor to the Call of Duty franchise, leading to employees staging a walkout on December 6. Employees later demanded that Activision reinstate all fired contractors with full-time positions, a request that was not honored. On January 22, days after Activision’s acquisition by Microsoft, Raven launched the Game Workers’ Alliance and asked their parent company for recognition. After Activision declined to voluntarily recognize the union, employees filed a petition with the NLRB to hold a union election.
The victory comes amid serious pushback from Activision, which has downplayed union efforts as the will of a small minority of employees. In February, the publisher’s VP reportedly said in a Slack memo that unions could “hurt our ability to make great games”. In response to an accusation from the NLRB that the company illegally threatened workers’ collective action rights, spokesperson Jessica Taylor said Monday that “These accusations are false… employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation.” The suit was brought last year by the Communication Workers of America, which has also organized for unionization at Raven.
Raven’s success in unionizing has the potential to affect similar unionization efforts happening throughout the industry. Broader knowledge about unionization across the workforce coupled with poor working conditions for contractors like crunch, lack of benefits and poor job security have, as in many other industries, inspired studios and subsidiaries to begin the process of forming their own unions. In December, Beast Breaker developer Vodeo Games became the first studio in North America to form a union. Raven’s subsequent unionization adds to the momentum that has fueled others in the industry to organize their own unionization efforts.