May 23, 2022 - Technology

Activision workers vote to form industry's first big union in U.S.

Illustration of a gaming controller with different fist icons on the buttons.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Quality assurance workers at Activision-owned development studio Raven Software voted to unionize today, setting up what would be the first union at a big American game publisher.

Driving the news: The vote, administered by the National Labor Relations Board in Minnesota passed 19-3.

Why this matters: A labor movement has been brewing in the games industry, as workers raise concerns about long hours and alleged misconduct at numerous publishers and studios, big and small.

  • Unionization isn’t a panacea, but some have seen it as a step to getting better treatment.

Between the lines: This latest step for the self-described Game Workers Alliance, came after the QA workers went on strike last fall to protest the dismissal of contractors and then announced in January a plan to form a union.

  • Activision contested whether the small group of QA workers constituted a viable bargaining unit.
  • The NLRB had ruled in the workers’ favor, setting up today’s vote.

What they’re saying: “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,” the GWA said in a statement.

  • “We look forward to working with management to positively shape our working conditions and the future of Activision Blizzard through a strong union contract.”

Activision has avoided saying whether it will challenge the election or proceed to bargaining with the unit.

  • “We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union,” a company rep said. “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.”
  • Regarding what they’d do next, the rep said: “We’re committed to doing what's best for the studio and our employees.”
  • Activision recently converted more than 1,000 temporary workers to full-time roles. It also gave raises to its QA workers, excluding the Raven group because it said altering the pay of workers pursuing a union would violate labor laws.

What’s next: Activision has until May 31 to file an objection to the NLRB vote.

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