Activision Blizzard changes course, will recognize and negotiate with Raven QA union

(Image credit: Bloomberg (Getty Images))

After months of resistance, Activision Blizzard has announced that it will recognize the Game Workers Alliance and begin "good faith negotiations" with its parent union, theCommunications Workers of America, to reach a collective bargaining agreement with the 27 quality assurance workers at Raven Software.The QA employees announced their intent to unionize under the CWA as the Game Workers Alliance in January, following a strike that began in December 2021 to protest planned layoffs.

"We begin this process after major investments in our QA team members over the past couple years, including significantly increasing starting pay for QA specialists and converting over 1,100 U.S.-based temporary and contingent QA workers to full-time positions," Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a message to employees.

"This conversion is providing access to comprehensive company benefits for QA employees and their eligible dependents. In addition, we have expanded access to performance bonuses for QA employees and learning and development opportunities. We also have integrated QA more seamlessly into the game development process, increasing collaboration that results in better products for our players and more opportunities for our teams."

It's a major positive step for the Raven union, but the ABK Workers Alliance said in response to the statement that the "major investments" touted by Kotick "were done as concessions from mounting employee pressure to try to stop unionization from occurring." 

Until today's announcement, Blizzard has in fact resisted unionization efforts: The company declined to voluntarily recognize the union and contested the subsequent National Labor Relations Board filing, saying that any union should encompass all employees at Raven and not just the QA department. When the NLRB ruled that the union vote could go ahead anyway, Activision Blizzard said that "a direct relationship with team members is the best path to achieving individual and company goals, and that it was reviewing its legal options for a possible appeal.

In May, Raven QA employees voted overwhelmingly to unionize, and a few days later Microsoft's Xbox chief Phil Spencer said the company will not oppose unionization efforts if and when its acquisition of Activision Blizzard is completed. That may have been the signal to Kotick and co. that it was time to quit dicking around: Microsoft said in a 2021 SEC filing that both companies would continue to operate independently until the completion of the buyout, but with Microsoft so clearly stating that it will not fight the union, continued resistance from current Activision Blizzard leadership would be both futile and potentially irritating to the new boss.

It's also fair to note that, absent any realistic avenues of appeal, there wasn't anything else Activision Blizzard could do: With the union voted for and established under the authority of the NLRB, the company is legally obligated to recognize and negotiate with it.

Ironically, the pay increase Kotick mentioned as part of Activision Blizzard's "major investment" into QA employees does not apply to the unionized workers at Raven "due to legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act," the company said in April. Now that the union is established, any pay bumps or other benefit changes will have to be negotiated, and that could be a while yet: Kotick said in his statement that "first labor contracts can take some time to complete."

"We welcome the news that Activision is ready to begin contract negotiations with the Raven Quality Assurance employees," CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement emailed to PC Gamer. "This is a positive step toward high road labor relations at Activision. The Raven workers have remained united in their fight for union representation and a collective bargaining agreement. 

"We know that the management approach recommended by anti-union consultants is ineffective and detrimental, and hope that today's announcement is the first of many steps towards full collaboration between ABK leadership and employees to positively shape the future of Activision through a strong union contract.”

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.