Quality assurance testers at Call of Duty: Warzone studio Raven Software gave management until today, January 25, to voluntarily recognize their newly formed union, Game Workers Alliance. Instead, embattled publisher Activision Blizzard announced tonight it would be forcing a vote with the National Labor Review Board, and called on that vote to include everyone at the studio, a move that would greatly diminish the unionization effort’s chances of success.
Thirty-four staff from Raven’s QA department revealed last week that they were organizing with the Communications Workers of America to unionize, an unprecedented step for developers at a major gaming company. They called on Activision Blizzard–in the midst of similarly unprecedented upheaval following allegations of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination last year, as well as the announcement earlier this month of a $68.7 billion sale to Microsoft–to voluntarily recognize the union, which had supermajority support within the QA department.
“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,” Activision Blizzard said in a statement tonight upon rejecting the offer. “Unfortunately, the parties could not reach an agreement.”
Activision Blizzard’s statement continued:
We expect that the union will be moving forward with the filing of a petition to the NLRB for an election. If filed, the company will respond formally to that petition promptly. 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.
When a company refuses to voluntarily recognize a union, the organizers behind it must win a majority in an election ratified by the NLRB, a hurdle that would have been easy for Game Workers Alliance to overcome within just the QA department. By requiring “all employees at Raven” to “have a say,” Activision Blizzard is effectively arguing that either the entire studio unionizes or no one does.
It’s unclear if that argument will ultimately win out with the NLRB, but it will no doubt continue to delay an actual election while the two sides hash it out.
“We would hope that in this case it would take place quickly but companies can choose to delay the process to file objections and concerns along the way and to drag things out, and when they do that it’s generally to give themselves more time to wage an anti-union campaign,” a spokesperson for the CWA told Kotaku in an interview earlier this week.
That anti-union campaign appears to already be in motion. The Washington Post and Polygon report that Raven studio boss Brian Raffel has been having meetings with staff about plans to break up QA and embed testers among individual teams. It’s a widespread practice in game development, but a suspiciously timed move that Game Workers Alliance called an attempt to “hinder our right to organize” in a statement today.
“[S]o long as we are testing, we are a unit that is linked by our function within the studio,” Raven QA tester Onah Rongstad told The Washington Post today. “Our solidarity won’t be broken by something like reorganization.”
Update: 1/26/21, 4:07 p.m. ET: The Game Workers Alliance responded to Activision’s plan on Twitter today: