Quality Assurance workers employed by Middleton’s Raven Software have won their union election after a vote count by the National Labor Relations Board concluded this Monday. Their win represents only the second time a union has earned formal recognition in the country’s video game industry.
The election, which was decided by a vote of 19 in favor of unionization and 3 against, comes as the culmination of a months-long organizing effort that began last year, when a bargaining unit of 34 workers declared their intention to unionize as the GWA.
When Activision Blizzard, the parent company of Raven software, announced the termination of 12 quality assurance positions in December, members of the GWA walked out alongside other Raven Software employees in protest. What started as a spontaneous action soon expanded into a 5 week strike outside of the studio, lasting into January of this year.
In April, Activision converted over 1,000 temporary and contract employees to full time and granted them a minimum base pay starting at $20 / hr. Although all of the QA employees at Raven had already been converted to full-time status, they were informed that they would not be eligible to receive the minimum salary pay bump.
Activision also undertook an effort to cancel the vote altogether earlier in the year, petitioning the NLRB to reconsider its decision to set an election date. The petition was denied by the Board and the final election date of May 23rd was affirmed. Separately, the Board leveled a series of complaints against the company, alleging that the uneven distribution of pay increases in April constituted an unfair labor practice.
The NLRB further alleged that Activision leveled threats against employees, stating that they could not talk about wages, hours, or working conditions and implemented a restrictive social media policy that also interfered with employees’ protected organization rights. The news broke hours before the union vote was read aloud, and if the company does not settle, the NLRB has stated it will formally file a complaint.
Activision is in the midst of a multi-billion dollar buyout by the tech giant Microsoft. At a company all-hands meeting, Microsoft executive Phil Spencer pledged that the company would recognize the union once the merger had been finished
In a statement to The Verge the Game Workers Alliance wrote, “Our biggest hope is that our union serves as inspiration for the growing movement of workers organizing at video game studios to create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower all of us. We look forward to working with management to positively shape our working conditions and the future of Activision Blizzard through a strong union contract.”.
Reporting Courtesy of Sean Hagerup for Labor Radio
Image Courtesy of Peter Miller on Flickr