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On Thursday, Activision Blizzard developers from employee collective ABK Workers Alliance (and at least one dog) gathered outside the gates of Blizzard Entertainment’s Irvine, California campus. Many raised a fist as a show of worker solidarity; others clutched signs reading “end gender inequality,” “human rights are not a game,” and more pointedly, “game unions now.” Hundreds more gathered across four states and participated online in the latest of several walkouts.
Organizers timed this week’s demonstration to mark a full year since the state of California filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard alleging widespread harassment and discrimination within the company. Some workers say there have been few meaningful changes from management during that time. But the culture outside of Activision Blizzard has shifted, making the company’s blasé handling of its united 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 has increased 58 percent. In games, union shops are only growing. Indie studio Tender Claws announced its own union today with the Communications Workers of America. Activision Blizzard is now the home of one of the game industry’s first AAA unions, after quality assurance workers at Call of Duty maker Raven Software successfully won recognition via election. A second, separate unit of quality assurance workers at Blizzard Albany, formerly known as Vicarious Visions, is now seeking recognition. “We are firm believers in the fact that a seat at the negotiating table will give us power to advance the workplace, to make the environment safer, to give us fair and equal conversation and voices in how the company is run,” associate test analyst Matthew Devlin tells WIRED.
That unit, which calls itself GWA Albany, is hoping that Activision Blizzard will voluntarily recognize their 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 election for recognition. “For them to deny us and not recognize us would be a foolish action on their part.” When asked about the company’s plans to recognize the union, Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George said “our top 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 provided a glimpse into how future unions within the company might function. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told employees that the company will come to the bargaining table—a legal requirement—following their successful election. Those workers are currently “going through the democratic process, electing their bargaining committee” before they meet with leadership, CODE-CWA organizer and former Activision Blizzard worker Jessica Gonzalez says.
Across the country, hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees in California, Texas, Minnesota, and New York are hoping to win more than just union recognition. The July 21 walkout was, in part, a response to more troubling changes happening nationally. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, companies across the industry have loudly proclaimed their support for the right to abortion and other important health services, like gender-affirming care. Some employees at Activision Blizzard don’t believe the company has done enough to offer support in the wake of that news. As part of its End Gender Inequality walkout this week, workers demanded protection for employees “from external threats like the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade,” as well as “safe and affordable healthcare policies that adequately protect workers and give them legal access to life-saving procedures like abortions and trans-affirming healthcare.”