Activision staff seeking union election in US first face company opposition

Activision said it will consequently file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Activision Blizzard on Tuesday (Jan 25) refused to recognise its first union, setting the stage for an escalation of a budding labour dispute.

The gaming giant said it will not voluntarily recognise the union that a group of 34 quality assurance testers at Raven Software, the Activision-owned studio that works on Call Of Duty games, said last week that it had voted to form with the Communications Workers of America.

The group said it will consequently file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board.

The proposed union would be the first ever at a publicly traded video game publisher in North America. Activision employees have been discussing unionisation since last summer, when California sued the company for sexual harassment and discrimination, setting off a firestorm of scandal and pushing workers to speak out both publicly and internally.

In a statement, Activision pushed back against attempts for testers to organise as a standalone unit and suggested that it will call for the vote to be extended to all of Wisconsin-based Raven, which has more than 350 employees according to LinkedIn data.

"The most important thing to the company is that each eligible employee has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their individual vote counted, and we think all employees at Raven should have a say in this decision," said an Activision spokesman.

In response, a representative for the CWA said the Raven unit would file with the NLRB.

"We are deeply disappointed that Raven Software and Activision Blizzard refused to uplift workers rights by choosing to not voluntarily recognise our union in spite of our super majority support," the spokesman said. "This was an opportunity for Activision Blizzard to show a real commitment setting new and improved standards for workers."

The emerging dispute comes just days after Microsoft offered US$68.7 billion (S$92.3 billion) to buy Activision. On Monday, Activision said it was reorganising Raven's QA unit to embed testers within development teams, which the CWA representative slammed as a union-busting action.

"Activision Blizzard has chosen to make a rushed restructuring announcement to try and hinder our right to organise," the representative said. "Once again, when management is given a choice, they always seem to take the low road."

As the accusations of sexual harassment and discrimination emerged last year, workers across Activision began talking about organising and handed out union cards.

Raven employees also went on a strike that started on Dec 6 in protest of the company's intent to dismiss a dozen contract testers. Quality assurance testers are often underpaid, overworked and treated as disposable.

At Raven, testers say they are frequently asked to put in overtime and have talked of working nights and weekends for months straight.

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