On Thursday, Activision Blizzard developers from the employee collective ABK Workers Alliance (and at least one dog) gathered outside the gates of Blizzard Entertainment’s campus in Irvine, California. Many raised a fist in a show of worker solidarity; others held signs that read “end gender inequality,” “human rights are not a game,” and more specifically, “gaming unions now.” Several hundred gathered in four different states and participated online in the latest of more calls.
Organizers timed this week’s rally to mark a full year since the state of California filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard alleging widespread harassment and discrimination at the company. Some employees say there have been few meaningful changes from management at the company during that time. But the culture outside Activision Blizzard has changed, making management’s blasé handling of its unionized workers feel increasingly dated.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, from October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, the number of petitions filed for union representation increased by 58 percent. In game, union shops only grow. Indie studio Tender Claws announced today its own union with the Communications Workers of America. Activision Blizzard is now home to one of the gaming industry’s first AAA unions, according to quality assurance workers at Call of Duty maker Raven Software successfully won recognition via election. Another, separate unit of quality assurance workers at Blizzard Albany, formerly known as Vicarious Visions, is now seeking recognition. “We strongly believe that a seat at the bargaining table will give us the power to advance the workplace, to make the environment safer, to give us a fair and equal conversation and voice in how the company is run,” associate test analyst Matthew Devlin tells WIRED .
The entity, which calls itself GWA Albany, hopes that Activision Blizzard will voluntarily recognize their union, Devlin says — a path the company did not take with Raven Software. “We have a supermajority,” he says, referring to the numbers needed to win an NLRB election for recognition. “to deny us and not recognize us would be a foolish act on their part.” When asked about the company’s plans to recognize the union, Activision Blizzard spokesman Rich George said “our top priority remains our employees.”
“We deeply respect all employees’ rights under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” he said in a statement. “We believe that a direct relationship between the company and its employees is the most productive relationship.”
Raven’s unit has and will continue to provide an insight into how future unions in the company can function. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told employees that the company will come to the bargaining table — a legal requirement — after their successful election. Those workers are “currently going through the democratic process and electing their bargaining committee” before meeting with management, said CODE-CWA organizer and former Activision Blizzard worker Jessica Gonzalez.
Across the country, hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees in California, Texas, Minnesota and New York are hoping to win more than just union recognition. The July 21 dismissal was partly a response to more troubling changes happening nationally. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, companies across industries have loudly proclaimed their support for the right to abortion and other important health services, such as gender-affirming care. Some employees at Activision Blizzard don’t think the company has done enough to offer support in the wake of this news. As part of its “End Gender Inequality walkout” this week, workers demanded the protection of employees “from external threats such as the recent upheaval of Roe v. Wade,” as well as “safe and affordable health care policies that adequately protect workers and give them legal access to life-saving procedures like abortions and trans-affirming health care.”