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Blizzard QA workers in Albany are organizing Activision’s second union

Blizzard QA workers in Albany are organizing Activision’s second union


‘They have failed [at union busting] and will continue to fail’

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The QA department at Blizzard Albany, the studio formerly known as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2’s Vicarious Visions, has become the second QA department within Activision Blizzard to organize a union.

The group, organized as GWA Albany, has around 20 members and formed a union to address issues like competitive and fair compensation, healthcare, and “establishing reasonable protocols to address demands of ‘crunch’ time.”

GWA Albany is now the second QA department within Activision Blizzard to unionize after QA workers at Raven Software organized, voted, and won their union over the course of the last six months.

Amanda Laven, an associate test analyst and member of the GWA Albany organizing committee, said their organizing process started in December — around the same time Raven employees were walking out to protest layoffs — and that “seeing [Raven Software’s] process helped us a lot so we could understand what was ahead of us.”

And there will indeed be a lot ahead of them. Throughout Raven’s organizing process, Activision Blizzard was accused of union busting, resulting in a pending unfair labor practice suit from the NLRB.

The company reorganized Raven’s QA department to splinter its members across different teams, petitioned to have the union vote extended to all Raven employees and not only the QA bargaining unit, and, in a startling move, raised the minimum pay to $20 / hour for every QA employee except those at Raven.

Laven says her team is unconcerned by Activision Blizzard’s actions. “They have failed [at union busting] and will continue to fail — we are strong together and we know it.”

It’s also worth noting that Microsoft, which is attempting a $68 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, entered a labor neutrality agreement, essentially agreeing to respect the outcomes of Activision Blizzard’s exploding labor movement.

This newest union comes amidst a sweeping labor movement across the country. Companies like Starbucks, Amazon, Chipotle, Verizon, and more are starting to see workers at their lowest rungs organizing and winning unions. And QA — with its reputation as some of the worst-treated workers in the video game industry — seems ripe for participating in this unprecedented time of union organization.

“I think QA has the most obvious needs,” Laven said. “Our pay tends to be significantly lower than other departments, crunch hits us hard because we’re at the end of the development pipeline, and often there is little room for career growth or sustainability. Fortunately we are beginning to see that change with the raises, full-time conversions, and educational opportunities the company is beginning to offer, all of which came about as a result of collective action. I believe other departments are already starting to organize as well, and that when they see our success and what working together can accomplish it will accelerate their efforts.”

Activision Blizzard has not yet stated whether it will (and judging from its behavior regarding Raven’s unionization process, it is highly unlikely), but Rich George, Activision Blizzard spokesperson, did issue this statement to The Verge:

Our top priority remains our employees. We deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union. We believe that a direct relationship between the company and its employees is the most productive relationship. The company will be publicly and formally providing a response to the petition to the NLRB.

As GWA Albany awaits Activision Blizzard’s response, Laven thinks there will likely be more unions within the company on the horizon. “I would be very, very surprised if there are not already several other nascent unions in various stages of organizing by this point,” she said.