Quality assurance testers at Call of Duty studio Raven Software have voted overwhelmingly to form a union with the Communications Workers of America, marking a historic labor victory for the video game industry. The vote, with the Milwaukee office of the National Labor Relations Board, was 19-3.
Until today, not a single major American game developer had a unionized work force of any kind. Only a single indie studio of remote workers, called Vodeo Games, voted to a form a union last year, though some game industry unions and cooperative do exist in Canada and overseas.
The union at Raven Software is known as Game Workers Alliance, and it marks a rare union win for the CWA, which has been working for years now to try to unionize game studios and combat worker exploitation.
“Five months ago, we formed the Game Workers Alliance-CWA on the principles of solidarity, sustainability, transparency, equity, and diversity. Activision Blizzard worked tirelessly to undermine our efforts to establish our union, but we persevered," the GWA said in a statement. "Now that we’ve won our election, it is our duty to protect these foundational values on which our union stands. Our biggest hope is that our union serves as inspiration for the growing movement of workers organizing at video game studios to create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower all of us. We look forward to working with management to positively shape our working conditions and the future of Activision Blizzard through a strong union contract."
The union at Raven was spurred by both layoffs at the QA department in December and by parent company Activision Blizzard's ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination crisis. A California lawsuit filed last summer has kicked off a reckoning at the game publisher, leading to numerous other lawsuits, high-level firings and resignations, management reshuffles, employee protests and a growing unionization movement.
Earlier Monday, the NLRB found that Activision Blizzard had illegally threatened employees and violated their rights through intimidation and an overly broad social media policy prohibiting them from discussing labor organizing, the lawsuit and other related matters. The NLRB plans to sue the company if it does not settle the charges.
It’s been more than four months since quality assurance testers at Activision-owned Raven Software said they had formed a union following a five-week strike to protest layoffs. Since the QA testers formed GWA in late January, Activision Blizzard has waged a lengthy anti-union campaign at Raven.
Management split up the team and distributed members across various divisions at Raven, a tactic GWA members felt was designed to stifle organizing efforts. Activision Blizzard said in April it would convert thousands of contract workers to full-time and hand out pay raises, but it excluded Raven’s union members from the bump. Later that same month, the company tried to include all of Raven’s roughly 350 employees on the union vote; the NLRB struck the measure down, as well as future appeals trying to stall the vote.
“Activision did everything it could, including breaking the law, to try to prevent the Raven QA workers from forming their union. It didn’t work, and we are thrilled to welcome them as CWA members,” said Sara Steffens, the CWA secretary-treasurer, in a statement. “Quality assurance workers at Raven Software are bringing much-needed change to Activision and to the video game industry. At this critical time for the company and its employees, these workers will soon have an enforceable union contract and a voice on the job.”
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson said the company was unhappy with the election results and reiterated management's desire to have included all of Raven's employees on the vote. “We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union. 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," the spokesperson said.
Update 5/24, 10AM ET: Included a statement from Activision Blizzard.
Correction: An earlier version off this story misstated the length of time since Raven's QA testers formed their union. This story was updated on May 23, 2022.