Game Workers Alliance casts historic vote to become an official union

History was made yesterday, and it was wonderful to witness. In a move that told Activision Blizzard and Raven Software where to stick it, the Game Workers Alliance (GWA) is now an officially recognized union. The vote was broadcasted live on Twitter Spaces. With a 19-3 margin and two challenge votes, the majority of Raven Software’s Quality Assurance workers decided to send a decisive message: they will not be silence and will continue to fight for workers’ rights in the gaming industry.

The vote comes after repeated ups and downs for the GWA and the folks they represent. The alliance was first formed after Raven Software laid off several QA contractors just prior to Christmas 2021. The unexpected layoffs couldn’t have come at a worse time. In a move of solidarity, still employed workers decided to strike. The response from those in leadership positions was to not offer any communication or recourse.

Lines drawn in the sand

The strike lasted for weeks. Talk of a union forming began on both sides. The GWA sought to be formally recognized by Activision. In retaliation, Activision put together a smear campaign, attempting to union-bust. Company provided misinformation passed around to other employees, trying to head off the unionizing efforts. Jessica Gonzalez, a cofounder for GWA spoke out against Activision and Raven. “Our best interests weren’t going to be considered unless we fought for them ourselves,” she said in an interview with Inverse.

Activision Blizzard had until Jan. 25 to voluntarily recognize the union. And of course, the company who can’t seem to get it right, sped head long down a path of idiocy. Management called for a vote with the National Labor Review Board. Not only that, but Activision wanted this vote to include every employee in the studio. This move would have almost surely killed any chance the workers had at unionizing.

Hence, without much recourse, the GWA filed to be recognized by the National Labor Board soon after. And of course, Activision doubled down on their efforts to stop it, by splitting up the remaining QAs, calling it “reorganization.”

Surprise! Activision continues to be shady

Ultimately, it didn’t work, and the process for legal recognition continued. Then, last month, things came to a head. In a move that many applauded as progressive, but in reality, was a targeted attack against the workers of GWA, Activision announced they were converting “all US-Based TEA and contingent QA workers…to FTE.” The email from Brian Raffel, Raven Software studio head went out to all employees. “Through direct dialogue with each other, we improved pay, expanded benefits, and provided professional opportunities to attract and retain the world’s best talent,” he said.

However, this wasn’t entirely true. There was one group noticeably missing from the increase in pay and benefits- the QAs from GWA. The reason, a well-crafted response, sounded hollow at best. “As part of today’s news, those Activision QA teams will receive an increase in minimum hourly rates. In addition, when the conversions take place, those QA employees will have access to full company benefits and eligibility to participate in the company’s bonus program, the same way our Raven QA teams have already been able to,” Raffel stated. “Due to our legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act, we are prohibited from making new kinds of compensation changes at Raven at this time.

The gold heart picture Activision and Raven Software tried to paint was unconvincing to many. Sara Steffens called a spade a spade in an email to The Verge. “It’s especially galling then that Activision has excluded Raven Software QA workers, who have been at the forefront of this effort, from these benefits. The company’s assertion that the National Labor Relations Act prevents them from including Raven workers is clearly an effort to divide workers and undermine their effort to form a union (Game Workers Alliance – CWA),” Steffens said.

Game Workers Alliance gets the go-ahead

It was during this time that the NLRB ruled in favor of the GWA to proceed with a vote to become an officially recognized union. On April 22, it was announced that the ballots would be mailed out on April 29, 2022 to the 34 employees that make up the GWA. The final vote count would take place yesterday, May 23. This decision came after a through investigation by the NLRB in which it rejected the attempts by Raven Software to undermine the unions effort to gain recognition.

It seemed to be smooth sailing. However, as seems to always be the case with Activision, they once again showed their hand. Ironically as the votes were counted yesterday, news broke from Bloomberg that Activision is once again in hot water. This time for attempted bribery and threats of silence towards its employees, specifically those working towards unionizing. If your head is spinning, we don’t blame you. The allegations came from the US labor board prosecutors, saying that Activision had illegally threatened staff and imposed a social media policy “that conflicts with workers’ collective action rights.”

Deny, deny, deny

Of course, “These allegations are false. Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation, and our social media policy expressly incorporates employees’ NLRA rights,” Jessica Taylor, spokesperson for Activision said. Because we haven’t heard that line before, at all, since July. Either way, the regional director of the NLRB will issue a complaint if Activision doesn’t settle.

In a fantastic twist of fate, all of Activision and Raven’s efforts to stop the vote were moot. And the GWA is now an official Union. Several other unions are making moves in a similar direction, and we could see them soon join the GWA.

We at Mega Visions issue our congratulations to everyone at the GWA for their constant strength and not backing down.

Alicia Graves

A bit nerdy, a bit punk rock princess, and a whole lot of mom, I'm constantly in motion. I have an enthusiasm for gaming and the cultural complexities of entertainment, both past and present. I don’t believe in limiting myself to one kind of genre in books, comics, manga, anime, music or movies. I prefer to seek out hidden gems in panned pieces, uniqueness in the mundane and new outlooks on nuances.
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