QA testers at Call of Duty developer Raven Software have succeeded in their efforts to unionise, the vote passing with 19 in favour and 3 against. They are now the first recognised union at a major video game publisher in the US.
The team will now have to be addressed through collective bargaining by Activision Blizzard for their contract negotiations, but the publisher has already signalled that they’re going to make this process as drawn out and torturous as possible.
The Quality Assurance team at Raven first announced their intent to unionise in January, adopting the name Game Workers Alliance. This was in the wake of the firing of 12 members from the studio’s QA team after broken verbal promises to staff that they would be offered new contracts soon, before being let go one-by-one. This led to strike action being taken by a number of Activision Blizzard staff, with the QA team at Raven then choosing to seek unionisation. When Activision Blizzard chose to ignore a deadline to voluntarily recognise the union, they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to call for an election. Now that they have succeeded in this vote, Activision Blizzard must accept collective bargaining with the group.
Not wanting to have a union within their network of studios, Activision Blizzard has pushed back against the efforts. First they decided to reorganise the department to work desk-side, a move seen as one designed to break up the cohesion of the group. They lodged a complaint with the NLRB to say that the group was too small (though this was dismissed), and they have repeatedly issued anti-union statements, suggesting that they will draw out the subsequent collective bargaining process as long as possible. At the same time, they have converted swathes of other contracted workers at Activision Blizzard to full time staff.
In an internal Q&A (per Bloomberg), they said that “Having a union at Raven could fundamentally alter the way Raven works in ways that can have a significant, negative impact for the studio and for individual Raven employees.” They also said that “A union can’t guarantee a pay increase” and “Union contracts often put an end to flexible scheduling.”
One interesting factor has been that, with the 12 QA testers let go in December, Activision had to hire 9 new testers to bolster the team – as a reminder, those 12 QA testers were all in good standing within Raven, so…. uh, why were they let go again? Those new hires were eligible to vote, with Raven workers telling the Washington Post that they had to scramble to recruit them to their side.
Either way, it’s a landmark win for workers at Activision Blizzard and in the US, where a spate of unionisation efforts have been kicked off at major tech companies – Apple retail workers have unionised, there have been votes at Amazon sorting facilities and more. How Activision Blizzard treats the union will be closely watched, as will the attitude of Microsoft, which announced a deal to acquire for Activision Blizzard for $69 billion in January. That deal is still awaiting regulator approval, having passed a shareholder vote, but Microsoft has their own reputation for leaning heavily on contract workers to avoid giving out full time positions with necessary benefits and support…