By Sara Ashley O’Brien, CNN Business
Workers at an Activision Blizzard-owned game studio announced plans on Friday to form what would be the first union at the troubled gaming company.
A group of quality assurance workers at Raven Software who largely work on the wildly popular “Call of Duty” series said they have garnered enough support to form a union called the Game Workers Alliance after weeks of tensions with Activision Blizzard over recent layoffs. The organizers are working with the Communication Workers of America (CWA) on their effort.
Last month, dozens of software workers at Raven virtually walked out of work after Activision Blizzard laid off 12 quality assurance testers from their unit. Since then, some of the workers have continued to strike, calling for the terminated workers to be reinstated, as well as for the company to hire long-time contractors as full-time employees. The workers say a union will help them ensure fair work conditions, wages, benefits and transparency.
Onah Rongstad, a quality assurance tester at Raven who has been on strike since early December, told CNN Business Friday that the initial catalyst was the “surprise layoffs.”
“We chose to go on strike to express the essential nature of our work and demonstrate that we are not disposable workers,” said Rongstad, who lives in Wisconsin where Raven is based. “We’re really optimistic that by making workers’ voices heard by leadership that we’re going to be able to make some solid change in our workplace culture.”
A super-majority of the Raven quality assurance team, or 34 people, have indicated support for the union. According to Rongstad, the organizing workers have formally asked management to recognize the union by Tuesday. “If they do not … we will do a vote, which we are also confident that we will be able to win,” Rongstad said.
Jessica Taylor, VP of corporate communications at Activision Blizzard, said in a statement to CNN Business that the company is “carefully reviewing the request.”
“While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” Taylor said.
The union push marks the latest effort by Activision Blizzard workers to agitate for improved workplace conditions. Last July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging a “frat boy” work culture where multiple female employees were subjected to gender discrimination, sexual harassment and unequal pay. (The company told CNN at the time that it had addressed past misconduct and criticized the lawsuit as “inaccurate” and “distorted.”)
The suit kicked off a period of turmoil for the company, including employee walkouts, an executive shuffle and pressure on the CEO to step down. Rongstad called the employee response to the lawsuit “a really important turning point for people,” as workers across Activision Blizzard came together publicly to respond to workplace issues.
The union move also comes just days after Microsoft agreed to buy Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion, making it one of the biggest tech acquisitions in recent years. Microsoft has had its own challenges with workplace culture, including allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior by its founder and former CEO Bill Gates from the 2000s. (CNN has not independently confirmed all of the allegations.)
CWA president Christopher Shelton said in a statement that before approving the Microsoft acquisition, the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission and states attorneys general “must all carefully consider the impacts on consumers and American workers, especially Activision Blizzard employees who have been trying to improve working conditions and raising up troubling issues regarding company culture of sexist and discriminatory cultural practices, pay inequity, workplace harassment and abuse.”
Activision Blizzard, in its paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission regarding the acquisition this week, indicated it was not aware of any strike or work stoppage, and that none of its employees were part of any unions. When asked to comment on this, Activision Blizzard did not directly respond to the request.
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