The Activision Blizzard King Workers Alliance is attempting to get employees of Activision Blizzard to sign authorization cards to establish one of the first game studio unions in the United States. If 30% or more of Activision Blizzard’s 9,500 employees sign the authorization cards, a vote will be called to begin the unionization process.
“Thousands of ABK employees have put their careers and safety on the line for years trying to make our companies better, safer places to work,” said Valentine Powell, a senior UI engineer at Activision Blizzard on Twitter. “We have exhausted as many avenues as we could before looking to unionization.”
Activision Blizzard employees consider unionizing
Over the past five months, Activision Blizzard has been in the midst of multiple sexual assault and worker discrimination lawsuits. The lawsuits allege that Activision Blizzard has fostered a “frat boy” culture that allowed for repeated discrimination and sexual harassment against female employees. Several employees were also denied pay raises and were demoted for speaking out, according to those allegations. In response to these reported working conditions, several employees have begun to consider the unionization process.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, if 30% of employees vote towards unionization, the NLRB will force an election to unionize, and the employees can begin bargaining with the company. Employers are forced to comply, and if they don’t, the employees will have the right to strike. Activision Blizzard’s response to the lawsuits has accelerated the process. Employees of the ABK workers group initiated a strike on Dec. 7 as well.
Organizers’ demands include:
- Reinstate these unjustly terminated employees.
- Hire all members of Raven Quality Assurance, who frequently are kept on contract for years on end, as full-time employees.
Today, the ABK Worker's Alliance announces the initiation of its strike. We encourage our peers in the Game Industry to stand with us in creating lasting change. For those who wish to join in solidarity, please consider donating to our Strike Fund.https://t.co/IauGyxuLYG
— ABetterABK 💙 ABK Workers Alliance (@ABetterABK) December 9, 2021
A brief history of game studio unions
The first reported strike that was related to the video games industry was by voice actors in September 2017. After that, several game designers at the Game Developers Conference in 2018 held a discussion with the title: “Union Now? Pros, Cons, and Consequences of Unionization for Game Devs.” That event turned into a Discord chat, a campaign and, finally, the formation of Game Workers Unite.
Game Workers Unite isn’t a union in itself. It’s a group that pushes unionization efforts in the games industry. Its members spread awareness of workers’ rights and help game developers work within their studios to unionize. Game Workers Unite is a branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, making it the only official union within Game Workers Unite.
Unionization has been a common topic across the industry since Game Workers Unite formed; more stories of abuse, crunch (constant, unpaid overtime), and unfair working conditions have been shared by developers all over the world. The conditions at Activision Blizzard are among the latest instances of these practices.
In the most recent walkout action prior to the unionization effort, Activision Blizzard laid off 12 quality assurance contractors from Raven Software after asking them to relocate without any assistance. This was despite the company making in excess of $2 billion in the last five months, according to a November earnings report.
“Activision Blizzard just continues to show us all how to not effectively manage a business.” Communications Workers of America organizing director Tom Smith said to The Washington Post. “And, as a longtime Blizzard player, it breaks my heart, and as a trade unionist, it’s pretty infuriating, but I think this latest controversy at Raven is, again, entirely self-inflicted on management’s part.”
The call for unionization has stirred a reaction from the executives in the company. Activision Blizzard employees received an email on Friday morning from Activision executive Brian Bulatao. In the email, Bulatao said “we ask only that you take time to consider the consequences of your signature.”
Activision exec Brian Bulatao, who previously worked for the Trump administration, sent an email to staff this morning saying to "consider the consequences of your signature" on union cards.
Safe to say Activision management is nervous about the burgeoning labor movement pic.twitter.com/oM9NFDbN7C
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) December 10, 2021
Unions are on the rise around the world
On the same day that ABK Workers announced a virtual strike, several iHeartMedia podcast producers, editors, researchers, writers and hosts announced they would unionize with the Writer’s Guild of America. Organization efforts at the media company are just one example of how unions are on the rise.
“The creators of iHeart’s podcasts have banded together in order to help determine the best path forward so that iHeart can remain competitive, retain existing talent, and attract new voices to the network, all while creating a more equitable, transparent and democratic workplace,” workers said in a statement announcing the iHeartMedia union.
John Deere factory workers recently ended a month of striking on Nov. 18. More than 10,000 employees returned to work with a new $8,500 signing bonus and 5% pay raises over 2023 and 2025.
“UAW John Deere members did not just unite themselves,” UAW President Ray Curry said in a statement. “They seemed to unite the nation in a struggle for fairness in the workplace. We could not be more proud of these UAW members and their families.”
Unions could be on the rise in the game industry as well, and though there are currently none in the U.S., the ABK Workers Alliance might change that. A union at Activision Blizzard, one of the largest game developers in the world, might set a groundbreaking precedent.
About the Author
The resident Dota player of the Upcomer Team that dips his toes into League, Melee and Pokemon. A chinese-indonesian living in Vancouver, Canada. Enjoys food, fashion and movies. Just another adult who decided it would be a good idea to start their own podcast