Activision Blizzard now has a second group of employees intent on unionizing after quality assurance testers at subsidiary Raven Software voted to become the first unionized workforce at a major North American game studio. This time, QA testers at another subsidiary, Blizzard Albany, have filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.
The unit is roughly 20 employees, according to a report from the Washington Post. Blizzard Albany is best known as a support studio under its former name Vicarious Visions. The developer work consists mostly of porting games to other platforms and supporting expansions to existing Activision and Blizzard titles, including Guitar Hero, Skylanders, the remake of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 and Destiny 2 post-launch content.
Last year, Activision Blizzard announced that the studio would rebrand as Blizzard Albany and merged formally with Blizzard to better support the Diablo and Overwatch developer on its upcoming games, a process completed in April. Now, the QA department is looking to unionize to improve work conditions.
The changes workers seek include "competitive and fair compensation, pay transparency, better benefits and improved health care coverage," the worker group said on Twitter, as well as measures to "address disparities in titles and compensation," dealing with periods of mandated overtime, known in the industry as "crunch," and improving processes for reporting misconduct. Activision Blizzard is still contending with multiple legal battles following a sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit filed by California.
“I firmly believe that having the union is going to give us the power that we need to make our workplace better,” Amanda Laven, a associate test analyst at Blizzard Albany, told the Washington Post. “It’s very exciting to go public with it and hopefully be able to inspire others the way that we’ve been inspired by Raven, and Starbucks and Amazon and all the unions that have come before us."
“We deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George told the Washington Post in a statement. “We believe that a direct relationship between the company and its employees is the most productive relationship. The company will be publicly and formally providing a response to the petition to the NLRB.” Activision Blizzard did not respond to the employees' request for voluntary recognition after 19 of 20 employees signed union cards with the CWA, making it likely a union election will occur as was the case with Raven.
The workers at Blizzard Albany are calling their union Game Workers Alliance Albany, following in the footsteps of the group of 28 QA testers at Raven that formed the first Game Workers Alliance chapter with the Communications Workers of America. Raven employees won their NLRB election in May after a roughly five-month period of opposition from Activision Blizzard management, which tried but ultimately failed to expand the union election to all employees in hopes it would diminish support.
This time around, Activision Blizzard may not be as aggressive in its tactics. Since the Raven election, Microsoft, which has agreed to acquire Activision Blizzard in a landmark $69 billion deal, made a public announcement saying it would not block unionization efforts from any of its employees or subsidiaries. Microsoft went even further a few weeks later in signing a historic neutrality agreement with the CWA, legally binding it to its promise not to interfere with labor organizing among its workforce.
The move may have been a strategy on Microsoft's part to help ease regulatory concerns around the acquisition, but it still poses a direct challenge for Activision Blizzard that may force the game publisher to stand down in any efforts to combat the union at Blizzard Albany.
"We respect the right of our employees to make informed decisions on their own,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Washington Post in an interview regarding the CWA agreement. "It means that we don’t try to put a thumb on the scale to influence or pressure them. We give people the opportunity to exercise their right to choose by voting … it’s something that’s respectful of everyone, more amicable and avoids business disruption."