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 Irvine, California campus. Many raised their fists as a sign of worker solidarity; others carried signs that read “end gender inequality”, “human rights are not a game” and, more specifically, “play unions now”. Hundreds more gathered in four different states and participated online in the latest of several outings.
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 workers say there have been few significant changes in company management during that time. But the culture outside of Activision Blizzard has changed, making management’s 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 gaming, union shops only grow. Independent studio Tender Claws today announced its own union with the Communications Workers of America. Activision Blizzard is now home to one of the game industry’s first AAA unions, following the quality assurance workers of Call of Duty manufacturer Raven Software won the recognition through elections. A second separate unit of quality assurance workers a Blizzard Albany, formerly known as Vicarious Visions, is now seeking recognition. “We strongly believe that a seat at the bargaining table will empower us to move forward in the workplace, to make the environment safer, to give us fair and equal conversation and voices on how the company,” associate test analyst. Matthew Devlin tells WIRED.
That unit, called GWA Albany, hopes Activision Blizzard will voluntarily recognize its union, Devlin says, a path the company didn’t take with Raven Software. “We have a super majority,” he says, referring to the numbers needed to win an NLRB recognition election. “For them to deny us and not recognize us would be a stupid thing for them to do.” When asked about the company’s plans to recognize the union, Activision Blizzard spokesman Rich George said “our highest priority remains our employees.”
“We deeply respect the rights of all employees 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 offer a vision of how future unions could work within the company. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told employees the company will come to the bargaining table, a legal requirement, after his election. Those workers are currently “going through the democratic process, electing their bargaining committee” before meeting with leadership, says Jessica Gonzalez, a CODE-CWA organizer and former Activision Blizzard worker.
Across the country, hundreds of Activision Blizzard workers in California, Texas, Minnesota and New York are hoping to win more than union recognition. The July 21 walkout was, in part, a response to more troubling changes occurring at the national level. After the revocation of the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade, companies across the industry have loudly proclaimed their support for abortion rights and other important health services, such as gender-affirming care. Some Activision Blizzard employees don’t think the company did enough to provide support after this news. As part of their march to end gender inequality this week, workers demanded protection for employees “from external threats such as the recent change 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 abortion and trans-affirmative health care.”