Activision Blizzard had until 6:00 pm ET on January 25 to voluntarily recognize the Game Workers Alliance, a group of Raven Software employees that recently gathered votes to unionize, backed by Communications Workers of America. That deadline passed without Activision Blizzard’s acknowledgment, and Raven employees now go ahead with plans to request a union election through the National Labor Relations Council.
“At Activision Blizzard, we deeply respect the rights of all employees to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” said an Activision Blizzard spokesperson. “We carefully reviewed and considered the CWA’s initial request last week and attempted to find a mutually acceptable solution with the CWA that would lead to an expedited election process. Unfortunately, the parties were unable to reach an agreement.”
On a series of tweetsGWA confirmed its plans to shelve the NLRB.
“This was an opportunity for Activision Blizzard to show real commitment, setting new and improved standards for workers,” read one tweet. “Instead, Activision Blizzard chose to make a hasty restructuring announcement to try to impede our right to organize.”
Events are unfolding quickly here, so let’s break it down by day:
January 21th: More than 30 Raven Software quality assurance testers announced that they had gathered enough signatures to unionize, a move that would make Game Workers’ Alliance the first union in a large-scale North American video game studio. Raven is owned by Activision Blizzard and focuses on support Call of Duty: Warzone, so this is as AAA as possible. Union signatories have asked Activision Blizzard leadership to voluntarily recognize the GWA by January 25th.
January, 22th: Raven workers ended a week-long strike against Activision Blizzard, awaiting union recognition from executives. The strike began Dec. 6 in response to layoffs of 12 QA testers at Raven — all of whom signed their names in the unionization effort, according to The Washington Post.
January 24th: Raven boss Brian Raffel sent an email to employees announcing “organizational change” that would dissolve QA as a team and transfer those employees to various departments at the studio. This is known as “embedding” and is not uncommon at AAA studios. Raffel said the merger was the next logical step in a process that began “several months ago.”
“As we look at the ongoing expansion of Call of Duty: Warzoneit’s more important than ever to promote tighter integration and coordination across the studio – incorporation will enable that,” wrote Raffel.
The timing of the announcement and the focus on QA testers has concerned activist groups, Raven union signatories and Activision Blizzard employees who have been fighting for cultural change at the studio since last year. Activision Blizzard is the subject of a lawsuit and multiple investigations over allegations of systemic gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and employees have come out several times, calling for the resignation of longtime CEO Bobby Kotick.
It’s unclear how Raven’s restructuring will affect the union going forward, but the concern is that this move will impede the members’ ability to coordinate with one another. CWA said on twitter that the ad was “nothing more than a tactic to thwart Raven’s quality control workers who are exercising their right to organize.”
The CWA thread continued: “When management uses nonsense keywords like ‘alignment’, ‘synergy’ and ‘reorganization’, they are sending a message to workers: ‘we make all the decisions, we have all the power’” .
A spokesperson for Activision Publishing provided the following answer to questions about the timing of the reorganization:
“This is the next step in a process that has been carefully considered and has been ongoing for some time, and this framework aligns Raven with best practices from other prominent Activision studios. It is also a milestone in our broader plan to further integrate quality control into the development process as our teams strive to provide best-in-class coordination in real-time live service operations.”
All this brings us to today. Activision Blizzard employees have the most votes in favor of unionization and are taking their case to the NLRB. This can be a lengthy process, and the longer it takes, the more leverage Activision Blizzard’s leadership will have.
Cornell labor and labor law professor Risa Lieberwitz said The Washington Post that structural changes should not interrupt the unionization process, but added that the moment “raises the question of whether [Activision Blizzard] are retaliating against quality control officials because of their union activities”.
The full statement from an Activision Blizzard spokesperson regarding the failed union negotiations with the CWA follows:
At Activision Blizzard, we deeply respect the rights of all employees to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union. We carefully reviewed and considered the initial CWA request last week and attempted to find a mutually acceptable solution with the CWA that would lead to an expedited election process. Unfortunately, the parties were unable to reach an agreement.
We expect the union to move forward with filing a petition to the NLRB for an election. If filed, the company will formally respond to this petition immediately. What’s most important to the company is that every eligible employee has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their individual vote counted, and we feel that every employee at Raven should have a say in this decision.
Across the company, we believe that a direct relationship between managers and team members allows us to respond quickly and deliver the best results and opportunities for employees. As a result of these direct relationships, we have made a number of changes over the past two years, including increasing the minimum pay for Raven QA employees by 41%, extending paid time off, expanding access to medical benefits for employees and their others. significant changes, and the transition of more than 60% of Raven’s temporary QA team to full-time employees. We look forward to continuing a direct dialogue with our team and working together to improve our workplace.
Microsoft last week announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard for $69 billion, a deal that is set to completely change the video game landscape. A day after the news broke, Activision said in a SEC filing that there were no unionization efforts underway at the studio, although it had already warned Raven employees to “consider the consequences” to sign union cards.
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