The Game Workers Alliance, the union of quality assurance workers at Activision subsidiary studio Raven Software, has won their union vote. The votes were tallied today and the union passed with 19 out of 22 votes with two challenged ballots. The election makes the Game Workers Alliance (GWA) the first union for Activision Blizzard and only the second formal union in US video game industry.
The vote is the culmination of months of organizing and a seeming concerted effort of union-busting on behalf of Activision Blizzard. In December, after 12 QA employees were informed they would be laid off in January, QA workers staged a walkout that morphed into a five-week-long strike at the Wisconsin-based Call of Duty support studio. At the end of that strike, the remaining QA workers formed the Game Workers Alliance in partnership with the Communications Workers of America (CWA).
Activision Blizzard was persistent in its attempts to stymie the unionization movement. Days after the GWA formed, Raven QA employees were broken out of their single department and distributed across multiple teams. The company also failed to voluntarily recognize the GWA, triggering the election process. During that time, the company petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to determine that the voting unit be composed of Raven Software employees instead of just the QA workers trying to unionize, which could have potentially diluted the majority needed to formally elect a union.
In April of this year, Activision Blizzard converted over 1,000 temporary and contract employees to full time and granted them a minimum base pay starting at $20 / hr. Although all of the QA employees at Raven had already been converted to full-time status, they were informed that they would not be eligible to receive the minimum salary pay bump. In an email to the company, Brian Raffel, studio head at Raven wrote, “Through direct dialogue with each other, we improved pay, expanded benefits, and provided professional opportunities to attract and retain the world’s best talent.”
Raffel’s language touted the company line Activision Blizzard has used since the unionization process began: that employees can win benefits they seek only through “direct dialogue” with their employer. It’s language that Tom Smith, national organizing director at CWA, has called, “the most tired anti-union talking points straight from the union busting script.”
A week before the vote was to commence, Activision Blizzard requested the NLRB reconsider its decision to hold the vote, a request that was denied.
In a wholly separate but related matter, the NLRB said it has evidence that the Call of Duty publisher violated labor laws. In a report by Bloomberg, the NLRB stated that Activision Blizzard threatened employees, stating that they could not talk about wages, hours, or working conditions and implemented a restrictive social media policy that also interfered with employees’ protected organization rights. The news broke hours before the union vote was read aloud, and if the company does not settle, the NLRB has stated it will formally file a complaint. Activision Blizzard has denied the claims.
Today, the union voters, despite the monumental efforts of their employers, were finally able to exercise their protected right.
Jessica Taylor, spokesperson for Activision Blizzard in a statement to The Verge wrote, “We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union. We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees.”
In a statement to The Verge the Game Workers Alliance wrote, “Our biggest hope is that our union serves as inspiration for the growing movement of workers organizing at video game studios to create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower all of us. We look forward to working with management to positively shape our working conditions and the future of Activision Blizzard through a strong union contract.”
Update May 23rd, 3:54 PM ET: Added a statement from The Game Workers Alliance.
Update May 23rd, 4:00 PM ET: Added a statement from Activision Blizzard.