Game centers

Workers at an Activision game studio say they’re forming a union

A group of workers at Raven Software, a studio owned by Activision Blizzard, said Friday they were forming a union and wanted the prominent video game company to voluntarily recognize it.

The new union, the Game Workers Alliance, says it comprises more than 80% of the 34 people in the quality assurance division of Raven, the Wisconsin studio that helps create Activision’s popular Call of Duty game. More than 60 Raven employees left the company in early December to protest the company’s termination of the contracts of a dozen temporary Raven quality assurance workers, which they said was brutal and unfair. Some have been on strike ever since.

“It’s just the best thing for us and our company going forward, for us to have a voice,” said Erin Hall, a Raven quality assurance worker who helped organize the union. She said she hoped unionization would lead to better job security and that the Game Workers Alliance would be just “the first domino of Activision.”

“I think a lot of us are very motivated by the fact that the organizing in the games industry hasn’t really happened yet,” Ms Hall said.

Now, Activision executives will have to decide whether to voluntarily recognize the union or force a vote among employees, which the National Labor Relations Board would oversee. Activision said in a statement that it was “carefully considering” the request.

“While we believe that a direct relationship between the Company and its team members provides the best workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions. whether or not to join a union,” the company said. said in the press release. Activision added that it has increased wages, vacations and medical benefits for union workers in recent years.

Activision, which Microsoft said Tuesday it would buy for nearly $70 billion, has faced months of employee unrest. Before the company incited anger by not keeping Raven workers in December, employees had been pushing for organized work and better treatment since July, when a California employment agency sued Activision, l accusing him of fostering a culture where women were routinely sexually harassed and discriminated against. .

Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision employee and one of the organizers of ABetterABK, an activist group that formed following the lawsuit to improve conditions for Activision and its Blizzard and King units, said that she hoped the Raven union, albeit small, would galvanize more labor efforts at the company — which has about 10,000 employees — and at other game publishers.

“I think this will have a ripple effect across the industry as a whole,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “I hope the rest of ABK will join our mission and help move this movement forward.”

Unlike in Europe, unions are rare in the North American gaming industry. American employees are often subject to unexpected layoffs and brutal “crunches”, in which they have to work long hours and weekends. ends for weeks to make sure games don’t miss deadlines.

Interest in organizing has grown in recent years, with groups like Game Workers Unite, Game Workers of Southern California, and Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, a project of Communications Workers of America, all working to mobilize gaming employees. .

In December, workers at independent game developer Vodeo Games, which has around 10 employees, became the first video game studio union in North America.

Raven’s employee organizing effort was spearheaded by CWA, a major technology, media and communications union.

“A collective bargaining agreement will give Raven QA employees a voice at work, improving the games they produce and making the company stronger,” CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “Voluntary recognition is the rational way to go.”

In a press release announcing the union, CWA and the Game Workers Alliance accused Activision of using “surveillance and intimidation tactics, including hiring notorious union busters, to silence workers.”

Both Ms Hall and CWA said the timing, given Microsoft’s successful acquisition of Activision, was coincidental. Microsoft declined to comment on the union organization.

Some workers see Microsoft’s purchase of the company, which could take a year or more, as a way for Activision to improve its corporate culture.

Others see it as an easy way out for the company’s embattled chief executive Bobby Kotick, who has come under fire since last summer and is expected to step down as chief executive once the deal closes, two said. people who know about his plans.

During a company livestream on Thursday with Julie Hodges, Activision’s chief human resources officer, Kotick told employees he had promised Microsoft that he would “stay as long as needed to ensure a smooth onboarding. and a good transition,” according to a transcript of the conversation seen by The New York Times.

Kotick also addressed Activision’s culture issues, saying the Microsoft deal “reinforces” its commitment to workplace reform, “and we’ve certainly recognized that we have room for improvement.”

He added that Microsoft “has been on its own journey to improve its workplace, and I think it’s a shared journey.”