A labor controversy is starting to heat up in the gaming world. Employees working in the Quality Assurance (QA) department of Raven Software are attempting to unionize, and a union was announced last week, called the Game Workers Alliance (GWA). Raven Software is largely responsible for the modern Call of Duty games.
This week, the parent company Activision Blizzard declined to recognize the union. They gave this statement to the outlet PC Gamer:
“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.”
That’s all bullshit of course. Activision Blizzard has been actively fighting off various unionization efforts for years, while at the same time dealing with a massive sexual harassment scandal. That scandal is outside the scope of this post and may be worth a post of its own, but part of its response is relevant to the unionization in gaming issue. In the wake of a torrent of bad press, Activision Blizzard released a statement promising an intent to address the problems and improve:
“We are taking swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for and to ensure a safe environment. There is no place anywhere at our Company for discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind.
We will do everything possible to make sure that together, we improve and build the kind of inclusive workplace that is essential to foster creativity and inspiration.
Earlier this year I sent an email requiring all hiring managers to ensure they have diverse candidate slates for all open positions. We will be adding compliance resources to ensure that our hiring managers are in fact adhering to this directive.”
So aside from a resolve to hire less White people, they also announced a partnership with a firm called WilmerHale to help them review policies and develop best practices. WilmerHale is an interesting choice, and is completely inconsistent with any goal of making the environment better for employees. It’s a major law firm based in DC, with corrupt ties to the Department of Justice. Even Bob Mueller was an attorney in this firm.
More to the point, WilmerHale has a background working with major employers, including Amazon, to help fight against unionization efforts. Measures include clandestine operations to sow mistrust, break solidarity, and spread anti-union talking points through the workforce as well as captive-audience seminars and other formal communications warning employees against unions. In fact, after starting to work with WilmerHale, Blizzard started pushing out communications of that kind.
Corporate leadership also pushed out more communications about the company’s intention to make amends, including a plan to double the percentage of Activision Blizzard employees who are women or non-binary and other pro-diversity efforts. This is relevant because the goal of such efforts is likely to fight unionization and the measures are probably being recommended by WilmerHale. It is important to remember that the Amazon-owned company Whole Foods is aware that diversity helps reduce unionization risk.
The list of core principles behind the Game Workers Alliance includes a focus on the unsustainability of investor-driven aggressive development timelines that harm both game quality and developer well-being. And while I can’t speak to Raven Software products (I don’t play Call of Duty), other Activision Blizzard product lines have been rushing out incomplete trash lately.
In response to the refusal of Raven Software and Activision Blizzard to recognize the union, the GWA announced that they will go forward with the plan to petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a formal union election and claimed to have the support of the “supermajority” of Raven Software QA employees. The GWA is partnering with a larger mega-union called the Communication Workers of America (CWA), who are helping the Raven QA workers navigate the process.
Raven Software then had an exciting announcement: the QA employees will be embedded directly into other teams to increase efficiency.
This effectively breaks up the unionizing team and makes it harder for them to organize. Again, I don’t have access to internal executive communications, but I assume that this is another counter-unionization effort recommended by WilmerHale.
While all this conflict was building, it was recently announced that Microsoft intends to buy Activision Blizzard, which will further consolidate management power.
In order to have a shot at unionization, the next step is for Raven QA employees to prove their “supermajority support” claim in a formal union election overseen by the NLRB.