Activision Blizzard Workers Form Gaming Industry's First Major Union

Wisconsin-based employees of subsidiary Raven Software delivered a blowout victory in the union's favor.
The high-profile video game maker is facing growing legal problems stemming from allegations of a toxic workplace culture.
The high-profile video game maker is facing growing legal problems stemming from allegations of a toxic workplace culture.
via Associated Press

A group of workers at the video game giant Activision Blizzard have voted decisively to unionize, giving organized labor a toehold in an industry known for its grueling schedules.

A ballot count held Monday by the National Labor Relations Board showed 19 employees of Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software were in favor of joining the Communications Workers of America union, while just three employees were opposed. The board has not certified the results yet to make them official.

The union would be the first at a major U.S. gaming company.

The Raven workers are Wisconsin-based quality assurance testers who make sure the studio’s games run well for users. They make up a fraction of the overall Activision Blizzard workforce but signify an important toehold for organized labor inside the company. The union would represent about 30 workers, according to NLRB filings.

Pro-union employees have been organizing at Raven under the name Game Workers Alliance, saying brutal schedules have taken a toll on their physical and mental health. They’ve called for pay equity and more transparency from management, and cited “continued cultural and ethical conflicts” within the broader company.

Raven laid off a dozen quality assurance workers in December, prompting a walkout threat by remaining staffers, who said the job cuts “go directly against the positive culture that Raven has created over the years.”

The following month, workers told Raven leadership that a majority had signed union cards, and they asked that management voluntarily recognize the union and start bargaining a first contract. The company declined, so workers filed for an election with the NLRB.

Activision Blizzard asked the labor board to enlarge the bargaining unit to encompass more workers, a common tactic employers use to dilute union support. Board officials turned down the company’s request, setting the stage for this month’s mail-in election.

An Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement on the vote Monday that the company still believes the election should have been much larger.

“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union,” the spokesperson said in an email. “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.”

Activision Blizzard, which produces the Call of Duty and World of Warcraft franchises, has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination in recent years. The company recently reached an $18 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, while the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is pursuing its own lawsuit against the company alleging a toxic “bro culture.”

On Monday, Bloomberg reported that labor board officials were pursuing a case against Activision Blizzard, accusing the company of illegally retaliating against pro-union workers. The company denied the allegations.

This story has been updated with comment from Activision Blizzard.

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