In major video game company first, Activision Blizzard employees are joining a union
Workers in one division of Activision Blizzard, the major video game company behind popular franchises such as Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Candy Crush, have voted to join the Communication Workers of America.
The employees unionizing are 28 quality assurance testers at Raven Software, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard. The final vote count was 19 votes in favor, 3 against. While the vote directly impacts only a small number of workers, the push for unionization is being watched by many in the games and tech industry.
"It's a beautiful day to organize," said former Activision employee and organizer Jessica Gonzalez, who livestreamed a watch party of the vote count on Twitter Spaces. "We are going to celebrate and get ready to make a contract."
"We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union," said Activision Blizzard spokesperson Kelvin Liu in an emailed statement. "We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees."
Microsoft announced in January it is planning to buy Activision Blizzard in an almost $70 billion deal, pending a go-ahead from federal regulators. Microsoft, which makes Xbox, is hoping to use Activision Blizzard's properties to break into mobile gaming and to better position itself in the future.
Also in January, Raven QA workers announced they were forming the Game Workers Alliance union in conjunction with the Communications Workers of America (many of NPR's broadcast technicians are also a part of CWA).
By that time, workers had organized multiple strikes and temporary work stoppages protesting layoffs. Workers say they have been frustrated for years, citing a lack of communication from management, low pay, and long hours, especially right before a product launch.
Labor organizers also point to the way they say Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick mishandled numerous sexual misconduct allegations within the workplace. The company has faced a number of state and federal lawsuits alleging people at the company sexually harassed and discriminated against its female employees.
"Our goal is to make Activision Blizzard a model for the industry, and we will continue to focus on eliminating harassment and discrimination from our workplace," said Kotick in a statement in March, after a court approved an $18 million settlement between the company and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The company has also addressed workplace conditions more broadly.
Activision Blizzard had initially tried to stop the vote from happening in the first place, splitting up the QA workforce among different departments within Raven Software, and arguing to the National Labor Relations Board that the QA workers didn't qualify as a bargaining unit. (At the time, Brian Raffel, studio head of Raven Software, said that the restructuring of the QA workers had been in the works since 2021 and was part of a broader plan to "integrate studio QA more into the development process").
The NLRB sided with the QA workers, and allowed the vote to proceed.
Just moments ahead of the vote, the NLRB announced that one of its regional offices found merit to allegations that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening employees who were attempting to unionize by enforcing its social media policy.
"These allegations are false," read a statement from Activision Blizzard spokesperson Liu. "Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation, and our social media policy expressly incorporates employees' NLRA rights."
Workers at video game companies seem to be more and more willing to organize within their workplace. In 2019, workers at Riot Games performed a walkout, protesting what they said was forced arbitration and sexism. Earlier this year, workers at the small indie studio Vodeo became the first North American video game company to form a union.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.