After weeks on strike, QA officers at Activision Blizzard-owned games studio Raven Software have voted to form a new union, adding a wrinkle to Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of the gaming giant of dollars.
Workers at the Wisconsin-based studio that leads development of the popular game “Call of Duty” launch the Game Workers Alliance with Communications Workers of America. The quality assurance unit consists of 34 workers, 27 of whom voted publicly to support the union.
“In the video game industry, especially Raven QA, people are passionate about their work and the content they create,” Raven QA Functional Tester Becka Aigner said in a press release. “We want to make sure that the passion of these workers is accurately reflected in our workplace and in the content we create.”
More than 60 workers walked off the job at Raven Software and the 10,000-employee Santa Monica-based company in early December to protest the firing of several quality assurance department members at the end of their contracts. The strike has been going on for five weeks.
Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision employee and organizer with labor group A Better ABK, called the news a “big step” for organizing in the games industry.
“The very first successful studio to unionize is a big deal,” Gonzalez said.
Worker unrest has been stirring at Activision Blizzard for months. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against the company last summer, alleging that top executives allowed sexual harassment and pay discrimination to continue unchecked across the company for decades. years.
Following the lawsuit, workers at the company formed A Better ABK to push for better terms and worker representation at Activision Blizzard and its King unit, maker of popular mobile games such as Candy Crush.
A Wall Street Journal investigation in November showed Activision Chief Executive Bobby Kotick had been aware of the sexual harassment allegations for years. Nearly a fifth of the company’s employees signed a petition and a strike was called to demand Kotick’s resignation.
Workers in the video game industry have increasingly pushed back on working conditions that include temporary contracts with minimal job security and brutal pressures of several weeks to meet game deadlines. In December, a dozen of workers at independent game developer Vodeo Games formed the first video game studio union in North America.
Friday’s news follows Tuesday’s announcement that Microsoft would buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, the largest acquisition in the software maker’s history. Some employees have expressed displeasure that the deal could represent a soft exit for Kotick, which is set to walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars.
Microsoft, like most players in the technology industry, is not unionized, although contractor Lionbridge Technologies’ temporary employees signed a union contract with the company in 2016. Some Microsoft employees in South Korea and in Great Britain also belong to trade unions.
Phil Spencer, General Manager of Microsoft Games told the Washington Post Thursday that he “doesn’t have a lot of personal experience with unions”.
“I’ve been with Microsoft for 33 years,” Spencer said. “So I’m not going to try to sound like an expert on this, but I will say that we will have conversations about what allows them to do their best, which, as you can imagine in a creative industry, is the most important thing for us.
The newly formed Game Workers Alliance has applied for voluntary recognition from Activision Blizzard, but will proceed with a ballot election through the National Labor Relations Board if it does not receive a response by January 25.
“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 the press release. “Voluntary recognition is the rational way to go.”
The Game Workers Alliance also accused the company of “surveillance and intimidation tactics”, including hiring union busters to silence workers.
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson said the company is “carefully considering” CWA’s application for voluntary recognition.
“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 spokesperson said. .
The company said it has increased minimum pay for Raven QA employees by 41%, extended paid vacations, expanded access to medical benefits, and transitioned more than 60% of temporary QA staff to full-time employees.