The news just can’t get any better for Activision Blizzard. The company has been subject to near-constant accusations of all kinds over the last few years. And despite their half-hearted promises to change, little has actually changed. The company continues to protect and reward filthy and corrupt stooges, like Bobby Kotick, for engendering a culture of abuse within the wider organization.
And in a surprising turn of events for the games industry, a union is in the works. A Raven Software union made up primarily of quality assurance staff, are in the process of formalizing their organization. These same staff originally planned a walkout over mass firings and other issues within their parent company, Activision Blizzard. The response from said parent company has been predictably hostile.
So how did all this begin? With Activision Blizzard being their typical crunch and abuse-prone selves. It’s well-known that the company has operated a job insecure environment that’s riddled with abusive management, for years. The issue got even more controversial when Raven Software QA team members announced plans to strike earlier this month. Members of the Raven Software QA team, alongside other Activision Blizzard workers, later called off the strike. Now they have formally decided to unionize. The next step is to file a petition for a union election of the wider company. If that vote succeeds, the group will join an existing labor union within their area, forming a local branch.
The group said it was still waiting for positive or negative recognition of its union from Activision Blizzard, but that it was “acting in good faith and asking for good faith,” by ending the strike. This is a vital part of forming a union in any industry, and the corporate response determines how easy it will be to actually put a union structure into practice.
The response to the union petition was a predictable and seemingly innocuous no. Blizzards says that “all employees at Raven should have a say in this decision.” This is a bit of rhetoric designed to cast doubt on the will to form a union, and attempts to drive a wedge between employees. It’s just the open salvo in what’s sure to be an anti-union propaganda blitz internally.
So what’s next?
The recent announcement from Activision Blizzard’s leadership makes it clear that this will be an uphill battle. The outcome of the union vote could kickstart a wave of unionization within the wider video game industry. If anything can be gleaned from the last few months of Activision Blizzard controversy, then it’s that the industry needs change. And the general tenor from gamers seems very supportive of these efforts. A fundraiser to build a strike fund for the Raven Software workers raised more than $375,000.
And it’s pretty clear that the response from company leadership will follow the standard of union-busting and obstruction. Major companies such as Amazon and Wal-Mart have routinely used massive propaganda and target harassment to break union organizing drives. The leadership has already tried to break the Raven Software union by spreading employees to different positions, making it harder for them to communicate.
Just how bad could things get? Let’s use another infamous example to show the lengths companies will go to bust unions. Reports from a unionization attempt at an Amazon facility in Alabama suggested the company not only constantly surveilled workers, but even collaborated with local officials to manipulate traffic patterns. The goal was to give carpooling employees less time to talk at stoplights. I wouldn’t put it past the game industry to do more of the same.
The company sent a statement to IGN when news broke. It’s riddled with typical corporate double-talk and half-assed rhetoric about change. The full statement sent to IGN is below:
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 CWA initial request last week and tried to find a mutually acceptable solution with the CWA that would have led to an expedited election process. Unfortunately, the parties could not reach an agreement.
We expect that the union will be moving forward with the filing of a petition to the NLRB for an election. If filed, the company will respond formally to that petition promptly. The most important thing to the company is that each eligible employee has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their individual vote counted, and we think all employees 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 quickly respond and deliver the strongest results and opportunities for employees. As a result of these direct relationships, we’ve made a number of changes over the past couple years including raising minimum compensation for Raven QA employees by 41%, extending paid time off, expanding access to medical benefits for employees and their significant others, and transitioning more than 60% of temporary Raven QA staff into full-time employees. We look forward to continuing a direct dialogue with our team and working together to make our workplace better.