Earlier today, January 21, workers in the quality assurance division at Raven Software in Middleton publicly announced their union. In their press release, they announced themselves as the Game Workers Alliance Union, a local of the Communication Workers of America. They are asking for management to voluntarily recognize their union, saying that they have a supermajority of the workforce as members already. While the union is asking for voluntary recognition, most companies refuse to do this. When that happens, unions can seek an election from the NLRB. No other units at Raven or across the 10,000 employees of the parent-company Activision Blizzard are yet unionized.
Workers at Raven and Activision Blizzard have engaged in numerous job actions over the last year. In December, Raven announced that it would lay off 12 quality assurance testers. This prompted a walkout at Raven of over 60 workers the next Monday, plus over 100 others across the US at other Activision Blizzard locations. While most of those who walked out returned to work within a few days, the Game Workers Alliance Union says that they are currently in the 5th week of this strike.
In their press release, Becka Aigner, a union member and QA functional tester II at Raven, had this to say: “Today, I am proud to join with a supermajority of my fellow workers to build our union, Game Workers Alliance. In the video game industry, specifically Raven QA, people are passionate about their jobs and the content they are creating. We want to make sure that the passion from these workers is accurately reflected in our workplace and the content we make. Our union is how our collective voices can be heard by leadership.”
The stated principles of the union are: Solidarity, Sustainability, Transparency, Equity, and Diversity.
The Tech industry, including video game development, has very low union density and has been seen by some labor unions as a major new industry to focus on. In January of 2020, the CWA announced their ‘Campaign to Organize Digital Employees’, or CODE, and the new Game Workers Alliance at Raven is a part of that project.
While working for a video game company might sounds like a dream job, for many it can be grueling. The industry is infamous for what it calls “crunch”, which are periods that can last for months of 80+ hours a week to try to get a game completed on time. This is generally positioned as the last big push before the launch of a game, but with games now requiring regular updates, patches, and versions, crunch can keep going.
While the walkouts in December were prompted by the layoffs, another major organizing issue across Activision Blizzard is sexual harassment within the organization. In July, the State of California announced that it was suing Activision Blizzard over a culture of “constant sexual harassment”. Soon after the suit was announced, workers walked out on July 28th and over 2,600 employees signed a letter condemning the company’s response. Many workers and those who play the games created by the company have been calling for the resignation of CEO Bobby Kotick throughout the year. The Wall Street Journal reported in November that Kotick knew for years about sexual harassment allegations, including rape, and failed to respond.
Earlier this week, Microsoft announced its plans to buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7billion, which would then include Raven as well. The purchase could take years to complete.
Reported by Scot McCullough
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