The labor movement in the US has really picked up steam in the last year or two, with a number of high-profile unionization attempts, strikes, and other actions making national headlines. That wave is beginning to work its way through the video game industry, which has long suffered with crunch and other poor working practices – but now workers are beginning to take some power for themselves, such as at Blizzard Albany (whom you may know under their old name Vicarious Visions), a 20-employee studio who has filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board
Last Thursday, the studio asked parent company Activision Blizzard’s management to voluntarily recognize the union: “I firmly believe that having the union is going to give us the power that we need to make our workplace better,” said Amanda Laven, associate test analyst at Blizzard Albany via The Washington Post interview. “It’s very exciting to go public with it and hopefully be able to inspire others the way that we’ve been inspired by Raven, and Starbucks and Amazon and all the unions that have come before us.”
ActiBlizz’s response was cagey, acknowledging the request but not explicitly stating whether or not they’d voluntarily recognize the union. “We deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” wrote Activision Blizzard spokesperson and unbelievably named human being Rich George. “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.”
Blizzard Albany only formally merged with ActiBlizz back in April, though it’d worked under the banner of the company for decades. They were inspired greatly by their peers over at QA testing studio Raven Software, which successfully won a union bid in May, the first union under a major US gaming company and the second gaming union ever. Blizzard Albany is using the same naming convention as Raven, calling themselves the Game Workers Alliance – Albany, so that other ActiBlizz divisions are more encouraged to unionize and join the general GWA. Thus, hopefully, this is but the second domino in a long chain of coming unionization efforts across Activision Blizzard and the entire industry.
Microsoft, currently in a $69 (nice) billion bid to buy Activision Blizzard, and has entered into a labor neutrality agreement with the Communication Workers of America while stating that they’re completely hands-off in regards to unionization. If they hold true to this rhetoric, then the GWA divisions that pop up will do well under the new management. We can only hope the workers can keep fighting through it all and win their due rights. Solidarity!
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