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On October 18, after the NLRB ruled that Blizzard Albany QA workers would be able to vote in a union election, newly instated chief communications officer Lulu Cheng Meservey posted a lengthy message on Slack in response to the news. Meservey maintained that a handful of employees should not be able to “decide for everyone else on the future of the entire Albany-based Diablo team,” and that a “direct dialogue” between management and employees is “the most productive route.”
“We feel collective bargaining is comparatively slow … during the long contract negotiations, labor law forbids companies from giving any pay/bonus/benefit increases without a special arrangement with the union,” Meservey said. She referenced a small Bloomberg Law chart from July with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, adding that it “has reported that non-union employees generally get larger pay raises than union-represented groups.”
(Previous BLS studies claim unionized workers tend to make more money overall. A 2020 report found that non-union workers made only 81 percent of what union workers pulled in. In 2021, the Bureau reported that non-union worker earnings were 83 percent of what unionized workers made.)
In response to Meservey’s comments, the Communications Workers of America, of which GWA Albany is a part, filed a new unfair labor practice charge in October against Activision Blizzard, this time alleging disparagement against the union through company-wide Slack messages, including “communicating to employees that the onus was on the union for the employer’s failure to enact wage increases, its failure to provide professional advancement opportunities, and its failure to implement other improvements to terms and conditions of employment.”
Pay discrepancies aren’t the only reason employees unionize, Bronfenbrenner says. “If that were the case, the employers could keep unions out of it by giving a little bit more money,” she adds. “Workers organize around a say in their working conditions. They want to be treated better. They want a voice, they want respect, they want control.”
Control can be anything from maintaining reasonable schedules to sick leave and a system for promotions. Regardless of a company’s current culture, all it takes is new management to tip healthy workplaces on their head. Just look at Twitter, where Elon Musk’s takeover has been a rapid-fire, real-time lesson full of mass layoffs, firings, resignations, brutal overtime, and naked concern about the company’s future. In just a few weeks, Musk has threatened employees with firings over remote work, removed employees who voiced dissenting opinions, and is now demanding employees work “long hours at high intensity” or leave.
“The employer can’t change things in a union workplace without speaking to the union first,” Bronfenbrenner says. “And that may be the biggest thing the union offers: that the workers get a voice.”
Activision Blizzard employees are showing no signs of going quiet. “It has become tradition for employees to respond to the management announcements in Slack with an emote that says ‘fucking unionize’ in the Activision Blizzard font,” QA worker Fabby Garza says. And, Bronfenbrenner adds, organizing is contagious. Walkouts lead to strikes, strikes lead to unions. “They show workers what unions can do,” she says.
At Activision Blizzard, that’s proving to be the case. In the past six months, the game industry’s efforts to unionize a major studio have come to fruition twice—a stunning turn for an industry where workers have tried and failed to do so for decades.