On January 21st, the QA testers at Call of Duty developer Raven Software announced they had formed a union and were seeking voluntary recognition from Raven parent company Activision Blizzard. "With a super-majority of Raven Quality Assurance invested in our organizing efforts, we have found it to be in our own best interests to push forward with unionization. It has become evident that equity will never be achieved without collective bargaining power," the workers wrote in an open letter to Activision Blizzard leadership.
The newly formed Game Workers Alliance, composed of 34 quality assurance workers, asked for recognition to form a union with the Communication Workers of America (CWA) by the end of the work day on Tuesday, January 25th. Activision has now missed that deadline, meaning the union is going to file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), reports The Washington Post.
In a statement to PC Gamer on Tuesday, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed that Activision chose not to voluntarily recognize the Game Workers Alliance: "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."
The statement continues that if the Game Workers Alliance does file for an election with the NLRB, Activision Blizzard "will respond formally to that petition promptly," and that "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."
If more than 50% of the QA workers vote to ratify the union—which sounds likely, since they claim to have a supermajority of support—Activision Blizzard will be required to begin bargaining with the Game Workers Alliance. Activision Blizzard's statement above, that "all employees at Raven should have a say in this decision," may play a part in the election process. There are only 34 workers in the Game Workers Alliance, but more than 350 employees (opens in new tab) in the entire studio.
As explained on the NLRB's website: "NLRB agents will seek an election agreement between the employer, union, and other parties setting the date, time, and place for balloting, the ballot language(s), the appropriate unit, and a method to determine who is eligible to vote." If an agreement can't be reached, a NLRB regional director holds a hearing before making a final decision.
Complicating the unionization effort is an organizational change Raven announced internally on Monday. In an email obtained by Polygon, Raven founder and studio head Brian Raffel told workers that "QA colleagues will embed directly within various teams across the studio, including Animation, Art, Design, Audio, Production and Engineering," a transition that had been planned for months. The unionization effort was not mentioned alongside the reorganization, according to Polygon.
Activision PR responded to the report by explaining that other Activision studios have been organized the same way, meaning Raven is now being brought into line with the "best practices" across the company. And QA workers broadly have positive things to say about embedded QA during development. The timing of the announcement could be construed as an effort to dilute the newly formed union's support, however—the CWA sent a statement Tuesday that the reorganization meetings at Raven were "nothing more than a tactic to thwart Raven QA workers who are exercising their right to organize," according to the Washington Post.
The results of the planned NLRB election will determine what happens next with Raven's QA testers, and will likely serve as a bellwether for unionization across Activision Blizzard, where employees are still demanding the removal of Bobby Kotick as CEO, among other improvements to workplace conditions. It is currently unclear whether or not Kotick will stay on as CEO following the completion of the Microsoft acquisition announced last week, but the rumor is that he'll step down.