A group of workers at a video game studio part of Activision Blizzard have voted to form a union, a first for a major North American video game company.
The vote, which passed 19 to 3, involves 28 quality assurance employees from Raven Software, the Wisconsin studio that helps develop the popular Call of Duty game. Workers have been voting for the past few weeks and the results were tallied by the National Labor Relations Board on Monday. Activision has one week to formally oppose it if it finds grounds for complaint.
The new union, the Game Workers Alliance, is the culmination of months of organizing at Activision, which has come under increasing pressure from employees to improve working conditions after a lawsuit accused the company of a sexist culture in which women were regularly harassed.
Unionism at Raven in particular intensified in December, when quality assurance, or QA, workers walked out to protest the end of about a dozen contracts. The Communications Workers of America, a major technology, media and communications union, helped lead the organizing effort.
“Our greatest hope is that our union will inspire the growing movement of workers organizing in video game studios to create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower us all,” they said. the workers of the new union said in a statement.
Sara Steffens, the CWA secretary-treasurer, said she was “delighted” to welcome the new union and that “these workers will soon have a binding union contract and a voice at work.” Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, also applauded the new union on Twitter.
Video game industry employees have complained for years about low pay, gender discrimination and “crunch” – a term for strenuous 12- to 14-hour shifts given to busy workers to meet deadlines. These crises particularly affect QA workers, who say they are often treated like second-class workers. In recent years, employees have started to organize themselves. But until now, none of the major North American video game developers had a union.
The new union concerns only a small group of workers – the 28 quality assurance workers at the Raven studio, where several hundred people work. Activision, which is being acquired by Microsoft for $70 billion, had argued that all studio workers should have the right to vote. This claim was dismissed by the NLRB at a hearing in April.
On Monday, Activision reiterated its objection, arguing that the decision to unionize “shouldn’t be made by 19 Raven employees.” The company didn’t say whether it plans to file an objection, saying only that it’s “committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”
An NLRB regional director “found merit in allegations” made by the CWA that Activision violated federal labor laws by telling employees not to talk about wages or working conditions; maintaining an “overbroad” social media policy; and monitoring employees who engaged in “protected concerted activity”. The labor board said it would file a lawsuit against Activision if it couldn’t settle the case.