The Game Workers Alliance will be the first union in the US AAA game development space.
This week, quality assurance workers at Raven Software officially voted in favor of forming a union, which will be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The vote passed 19 to three, making the Game Workers Alliance the first North American union at a AAA video game company. With the vote, members of the Game Workers Alliance now have the ability to bargain with Activision Blizzard regarding their employment contracts.
The vote comes after a rocky battle with parent company Activision Blizzard over the treatment of Raven’s QA department. In December, the department was hit with a wave of layoffs. In response, Raven workers went on strike and began early talks of unionization. Activision Blizzard countered by decentralizing Raven’s QA department. The following weeks saw an active back-and-forth with Activision ultimately agreeing to hire its temporary QA workers as full-time employees early last month.
All the while, Activision Blizzard has reportedly been engaging in union-busting in an attempt to discourage workers from officially organizing. In messaging distributed throughout the company, Activision executives recommended employees “consider the consequences” of unionizing, and that “achieving our workplace culture aspirations will best occur through active, transparent dialogue between leaders and employees…”
According to a report from The Washington Post earlier this month, Raven QA workers received a number of emails repeatedly encouraging them to vote against unionization. Further, Activision Blizzard stated that it would look into all legal options when it comes to preventing unionization. However, the NLRB has noted that the company may have violated the law by threatening workers and has begun an investigation that could potentially lead to litigation against Activision Blizzard.
The vote represents a landmark moment for the games industry, but the Game Workers Alliance isn’t the first union in the North American games sector. Last year, workers at indie studio Vodeo Games voted to form Vodeo Workers United through the Communications Workers of America.
Still, the size of Activision Blizzard makes the Game Workers Alliance notable. The games industry has long struggled with issues of crunch, harassment, discrimination, and worker exploitation. Yet, to date, Vodeo and Raven are the only two officially recognized unions, and both have only formed within the last six months. Hopefully this is the start of a larger movement within the gaming sector.
For Activision Blizzard, the Game Workers Alliance vote is just the latest in an eventful couple years, beginning with a bombshell lawsuit alleging all manner of abuse, discrimination, and harassment, which was followed by a worker walkout. Later reports claimed that CEO Bobby Kotick was aware of the potential abuse. Then, in January, the company was unexpectedly purchased by Microsoft for a titanic $68.7 billion, igniting further talk of acquisitions in the games industry.
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