Raven Software QA workers win union vote

Workers at Raven Software responsible for quality assurance on Call of Duty: Warzone voted Monday in favor of forming a union, the first of its kind at publisher Activision Blizzard. The nearly 30-person group mailed ballots to the National Labor Relations Board in April leading to an official count on Monday. Nineteen workers voted “yes” on the vote, with three votes against the union.

The group, called Game Workers Alliance, will move into contract negotiations with Activision Blizzard (which Microsoft plans to acquire as part of a $68.7 billion deal), supported by the Communications Workers of America’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA).

Activision Blizzard has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment.

Raven Software QA workers began their union drive in January following a weekslong strike. Activision Blizzard announced a reorganization of QA workers in January, moving QA testers into “embedded” positions within other departments, a move that CWA organizing director Tom Smith called “nothing more than a tactic to thwart Raven QA workers who are exercising their right to organize.” Activision Blizzard denied that characterization, saying it was a “carefully considered” change that “brings Raven into alignment with the best practices of other prominent Activision studios.”

Since then, Activision Blizzard announced it planned to convert another 1,000 QA workers to full-time positions, increase their pay to $20 per hour, and allow QA workers access to bonuses and benefits. Raven Software QA workers were not offered the same pay raises at that time; Activision Blizzard claimed that was because of “legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act.”

In February, Activision Blizzard contested the voting at an NLRB hearing, in which the company argued that the embedded structure redefines the terms of union-eligible employees — meaning that the entire company, around 230 people, should vote. The NLRB rejected this claim in April before setting the date for Monday’s vote, where nearly 30 Raven Software QA workers participated.

Game Workers Alliance is the first group of employees to unionize under Activision Blizzard.

A union push is also underway at Keywords Studios B.C., which has previously supported BioWare’s QA efforts. Like Raven Software’s QA team, Keywords Studios’ QA workers said they face low wages in high-rent areas, plus increased expenses thanks to the studio’s return-to-work mandate. Keywords Studios’ proposed union will be similar in scope to Raven’s, with around 15-20 members, with support from United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Union, Local No. 401.

These union efforts were preceded by Vodeo Workers United, the Vodeo Games union that also partnered with CODE-CWA. Vodeo Workers United was the first North American video game studio to unionize, following winning campaigns at tabletop studios Paizo and Cards Against Humanity and a successful strike by Lovestruck: Choose Your Romance writers at Voltage Entertainment.

Labor organizing and unionization in the video game industry is more common outside of North America; technology industry in North America historically been considered anti-union. Video game workers, in particular, have reported working long hours — sometimes up to 100 per week under crunch conditions — and low pay. QA workers, in particular, told Polygon in 2021 that they often feel disposable, with minimum-wage pay and contract work cycles.

Even before Monday’s vote, however, Activision Blizzard workers saw success with regard to its solidarity campaign, with the aforementioned full-time conversions and pay bump. Though a small part of Activision Blizzard as a whole, the Raven Software QA union effort has had an outsized impact, workers said, with that win for all QA workers across the company.

Video game union supporters are betting that the impact from Raven Software’s efforts will help push momentum forward toward unionizing the wider industry.

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