Labor Organizers Want to Unionize All Activision Workers Ahead of Microsoft Deal

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

Xbox\u2019s various game developers it now owns: Activision, Blizzard and King.

While video game publisher Activision Blizzard inches toward sealing its $70 billion acquisition by Microsoft, behind the scenes, its employees are ramping up efforts to create a union.

Last week, workers at Raven Software—a Wisconsin-based subsidiary of Activision that leads much of the work on the blockbuster “Call of Duty” franchise—announced that they had formed a labor union and are seeking voluntary recognition by their Santa Monica-based parent company. The move was the culmination of lingering labor unrest at Activision in recent months, as well as growing momentum around organized labor across the gaming industry at large. And it could prove to be the catalyst for a larger unionization drive at Activision as it looks to finalize its massive deal with Microsoft.

According to Alex Dupont—a former quality assurance tester at Raven Software and labor organizer for the Communication Workers of America (CWA) guild—the plan is to bring more of Activision’s roughly 10,000-person workforce into Raven’s Game Workers Alliance union once it is certified. Activision had until Tuesday to voluntarily recognize the Raven union; if it refuses to do so—and indications are that it will not—the union will then proceed with a National Labor Relations Board-sponsored vote to force recognition.

Dupont noted that the union’s Game Workers Alliance name is deliberately open-ended and not tied to just one Activision subsidiary. The labor union would be the first at a major AAA game publisher, while only one certified union exists today at any North American video game studio (independent developer Vodeo Games’ Video Workers United, which only attained recognition in December).

“We definitely hope that other [Activision] locations will see this as kind of a spark—for them to see it is possible that you can get this done,” Dupont said.

After workers at Raven commenced a work stoppage in early December to protest layoffs, they were received with “radio silence” from Activision higher-ups, Dupont told dot.LA. The strike was Activision’s third work stoppage in five months, with employees in Los Angeles having also staged protests over the company’s handling of workplace sexual misconduct allegations. More than 30 employees at Raven subsequently joined forces to form the Game Workers Alliance; the union is part of the CWA’s ongoing Campaign to Organize Digital Employees effort, which has sought to unionize workers at Activision and other game developers.

“There is certainly a lot of positive buzz around other [Activision] employees about the potential of joining [a union],” Marie Carroll, a quality assurance tester at Raven, told dot.LA. “Overall sentiment is pretty supportive and excited for us, which is a really amazing thing to see.”

Carroll said Raven union’s goals include “transparency, equity and diversity” at the company, as well as a desire for quality assurance testers and other rank-and-file employees “to be amplified and heard—for their opinions to be considered alongside voices of developers.”

Instead, Activision is continuing to act unilaterally in managing its employees amid their protests. On Monday, the company informed Raven workers that it would be reorganizing its quality assurance team to “embed” testers across various departments. While Raven studio head Brian Raffel described the changes as having been in the works for “several months,” the move was swiftly condemned by labor organizers as an attempt to stifle the unionization effort.

“This is why big tech mergers that could increase and further concentrate corporate power, like Microsoft’s proposed Activision Blizzard acquisition, deserve real oversight,” CWA organizing director Tom Smith said in a statement responding to the reorganization at Raven. “This scrutiny is even more important when a company like Activision Blizzard impedes its workers from exercising rights that are protected under U.S. law.”

It remains to be seen how Microsoft would approach a unionized workforce inside its company, or what a larger unionization drive at Activision would mean for its acquisition of the Santa Monica game developer. None of Microsoft’s own U.S. workforce is unionized, though some of its workers abroad are. Neither Microsoft nor Activision returned requests for comments.

If the Raven union really is a jumping-off point for a wider unionization effort at Activision, it’s likely that the labor battle will be long and complicated. Nixon Peabody attorney Irene Scholl-Tatevosyan, a labor law specialist who also leads the firm’s esports and gaming industry practice, told dot.LA that folding other Activision employees into the existing Raven union would be far from straightforward.

“With companies that have subsidiaries, you could potentially have union representation across the board, but it’s not necessarily easy,” Scholl-Tatevosyan said. “It is a complicated process to have that done, and it’s not without its legal challenges.”

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