Workers at Blizzard Albany, a subsidiary of game publisher Activision Blizzard formerly known as the studio Vicarious Visions that works on the popular Diablo franchise, said on Wednesday that studio management plans to fight their decision to unionize with the Communications Workers of America.
That's despite an agreement Microsoft made in June with the CWA to stay neutral on labor organizing among its workforce. Microsoft agreed to purchase Activision Blizzard for $69 billion earlier this year, but the deal has yet to close. Microsoft leadership has expressed support on multiple occasions for Activision workers who vote to unionize, and it was not clear whether Microsoft's more labor-friendly position would influence Activision Blizzard management with regard to its treatment of new unions.
Now, however, quality assurance testers at Blizzard Albany who last month voted to form the union Game Workers Alliance Albany say Activision Blizzard has hired the same law firm, Reed Smith, it used to try and stifle support for the union campaign at subsidiary Raven Software using a variety of measures designed to undermine support for the union. Those efforts ultimately failed at Raven, and QA workers at the Call of Duty studio held an election with the National Labor Relations Board, the results of which made Raven Software home to the first-ever union at a major game development company in North America.
Since the vote at Raven, smaller North American studios have begun unionizing, most recently at indie developer Tender Claws in Los Angeles. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick also sent a letter to employees saying management recognized the union at Raven and would "engage in good faith negotiations to enter into a collective bargaining agreement."
But after being given notice that QA workers at Blizzard Albany signed union cards, management has not voluntarily recognized the union, setting the stage for another drawn-out battle over workers' rights.
"It appears that Activision Blizzard’s management has once again decided to take the low road by choosing to fight against our union in spite of the fact that 95% of us have signed union representation cards," wrote GWA Albany in a statement. "We remain willing to engage with management productively if ABK leadership will commit to high road labor standards. However, if Activision continues its hostility, we are more than ready to go forward and win the formal legal recognition our union deserves.”
"Given the significant impact this change could have for roughly 150 people in Albany (formerly Vicarious Visions), we believe every employee in Albany who works on Diablo should have a direct say in this decision; it should not be made by fewer than 15% of employees,” Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George told Kotaku in a statement. "The team based out of the Albany location is an integrated group that shares a focus on the same game franchise and works on related game features and functionality. These employees share significant commonalities in their work and maintaining cohesiveness throughout the complex game development and production process is essential."
GWA Albany members say they're fighting for improved work conditions, including "competitive and fair compensation, pay transparency, better benefits and improved health care coverage." The group is also seeking to "address disparities in titles and compensation," deal with periods of mandated overtime, known in the industry as "crunch," and improve processes for reporting misconduct. Activision Blizzard is still contending with multiple legal battles following a sexual discrimination and harassment lawsuit filed by California last summer.
"Instead of following Microsoft’s lead and committing to a labor neutrality agreement, Activision has made the clear and conscious decision to deny us our basic labor rights while once again spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a union-busting firm," GWA Albany said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Microsoft entered into its labor neutrality agreement with the CWA last month; it took place in June. This story was updated Aug. 4, 2022.