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A group of workers at Raven Software, an Activision Blizzard studio, said Friday they are forming a union and want the leading video game company to voluntarily recognize them.
The new union, the Game Workers Alliance, says it includes more than 80 percent of the 34 quality assurance employees at Raven, the Wisconsin studio involved in the development of Activision’s popular Call of Duty game. More than 60 Raven employees left the company in early December, protesting the termination of the contracts of a dozen temporary Raven quality assurance employees, which they felt felt abrupt and unfair. Some have been on strike ever since.
“It’s just what’s best for us and our company going forward, so we 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 only be “the first domino at Activision.”
“I think a lot of us are very motivated by the fact that unionization hasn’t really happened in the games industry,” Ms Hall said.
Now Activision executives must 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 reviewing” the request.
“While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members offers the best opportunities for workers, we deeply respect the legal rights of all employees to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” the company said said in the statement. Activision added that in recent years it has increased wages, time off and medical benefits for unionized workers.
Activision, which Microsoft would buy for nearly $70 billion on Tuesday, is grappling with months of unrest among employees. Before the company stirred up trouble by not retaining Raven workers in December, employees had been pushing for work organization and better treatment since July, when a California employment agency sued Activision, accusing it of promoting a culture where women were routinely sexually harassed and would be discriminated against.
Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision employee and one of the organizers of ABetterABK, a group of activists formed after the lawsuit to improve conditions at Activision and its Blizzard and King units, said she hopes the Raven union Although small, this would mobilize more work efforts at the company – which has about 10,000 employees – and at other gaming publishers.
“I think it’s going to have a ripple effect across the industry,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “I hope the rest of ABK will join our mission and help drive this movement forward.”
Unlike Europe, unions are rare in the North American gaming industry. American employees often face unexpected layoffs and brutal “crunch” in which they have to work long hours and weekends for weeks on end to ensure games don’t miss deadlines.
Interest in unionizing has increased in recent years, with groups like Game Workers Unite, Game Workers of Southern California and the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, a project of Communications Workers of America, all working to mobilize gaming workers .
In December, workers at independent game developer Vodeo Games, which has about a dozen employees, became North America’s first video game studio union.
The organizing efforts of Raven employees were spearheaded by the CWA, a well-known technology, media and communications union.
“A collective bargaining agreement will give Raven QA employees a voice at work, improve the games they produce and strengthen the company,” Sara Steffens, secretary and treasurer of CWA, said in a statement. “Voluntary recognition is the sensible way.”
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 fighters, to silence workers.”
Ms. Hall and CWA both said the timing was fortuitous given Microsoft’s blockbuster acquisition of Activision. Microsoft declined to comment on the unionization.
Some employees see Microsoft’s purchase of the company, which could take a year or more to complete, as a way for Activision to improve its workplace culture.
Others see it as an easy exit for the company’s embattled chief executive, Bobby Kotick, who has been under fire since last summer and is expected to step down as chief executive once the deal closes, according to two people with knowledge of his plans.
During a corporate livestream Thursday with Activision Chief People Officer Julie Hodges, Mr. Kotick told employees he had promised Microsoft that he would stay “for as long as is necessary to ensure we have a great integration and.” have a great transition”. to a transcript of the conversation seen by the New York Times.
Mr. Kotick also addressed Activision’s cultural issues, saying the Microsoft deal “reinforces” its commitment to workplace reform, “and we certainly recognized that we have opportunities to improve.”
He added that Microsoft “has been on its own journey to improve its workplace and I think it’s a shared journey.”