Blizzard Albany, previously known as Vicarious Visions, is the latest Activision studio to launch a unionization effort. Roughly 20 quality assurance staff at the office which remastered Diablo II last year have called on the publisher to voluntarily recognise the union, calling it “a seat at the table for negotiating our futures.”
“We, the QA testers of Blizzard Albany, are committed to fostering an open, diverse, and equitable workplace,” the union, called Game Workers Alliance Albany, announced on Twitter today. “We demand an environment where our skills, ideals, and democratic decisions are valued and respected.”
The staff are following in the footsteps of QA at Raven Software, which won a unionization vote back in May, and organising with the Communication Workers of America (CWA). Specifically, the group is asking for competitive compensation, better health-care coverage, pay transparency, and better work/life balance around issues like crunch, a game industry term for sustained periods of overtime work.
When Raven Software announced its intention to unionize last year, Activision Blizzard dug its heels in and refused to offer voluntary recognition. Instead, it implemented organizational changes, held anti-union meetings, and pushed for a studio-wide vote that had the potential to sabotage the burgeoning labour movement. Eventually Raven QA staff unionized anyway, and now workers at the former Vicarious Visions studio are asking Activision Blizzard not to engage in another protracted labour fight.
“Over 95% of the quality assurance testers have signed onto a vision statement requesting union recognition,” CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. Recognising the union will show that Activision Blizzard’s management is serious about improving the company’s work environment. Engaging in a protracted union election fight would further undermine morale and cement management’s legacy as enablers of a toxic, hostile work environment.”
Adding to the pressure is a recent pledge by Microsoft, which is currently in the process of buying Activision Blizzard for $US69 ($96) billion, to remain neutral on unionization efforts. The announcement appeared aimed at helping to placate potential antitrust concerns at the Federal Trade Commission which has final approval over the acquisition.
“Our top priority remains our employees,” Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George told Kotaku in an email statement. “We deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union. We believe that a direct relationship between the company and its employees is the most productive relationship. The company will be publicly and formally providing a response to the petition to the NLRB.”
Unionization is also only the first step. Despite their previous victory, QA staff at Raven Software still need to negotiate their first contract, and if successful, staff at Blizzard Albany will have to do the same.
Whatever the outcome, it’s a sign that labour organising in the video game industry isn’t losing steam. Tuesday’s announcement comes after Keywords Studios contract staff at BioWare successfully unionized in June, and after broader employee-led movements have taken hold at Ubisoft and other game companies both big and small.