Activision Blizzard Reorganizes Raven Tester Division That Voted Union
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Activision Blizzard game testers in Wisconsin are: expect to apply for a union with the National Council for Labor Relations. In the meantime, the company reorganized the testers in an alleged attempt to split them up, the Washington Post reported.
The move comes after the company failed to reach an agreement with Raven Software’s 34 quality assurance employees who have said it will form a union. The workers had asked Activision Blizzard, which has approximately 9,500 workers and publishes Call of Duty, to recognize their union, which is a rarity in the video game industry.
The employees of Activision Blizzard’s Madison, Wisconsin-based Raven Software division said they have a majority vote within their division. The workers are testers of the Call of Duty: Warzone game, and their union efforts have been fueled by layoffs, excessive overtime and low wages. Activision recently announced that it was delaying the launch of Season 2 of Call of Duty: Vanguard and its Warzone update because it worked to destroy bugs.
Meanwhile, Raven’s studio boss Brian Raffel sent a letter to employees stating that the company had made an organizational change that was part of the ongoing changes at the studio. It said it would take the game testers and distribute them across the departments they worked for and embed them into departments like animation, art, design, audio, production and engineering.
The workers saw this as an attempt to dilute their union efforts across a wider range of departments and employees. That comes with some risk, as the union has made no secret of its hopes of uniting more divisions at Activision Blizzard, as well as the rest of the gaming industry, to combat conditions like overtime. It’s also challenging as many employees have left to join well-funded startups during the gaming boom.
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Raffel said: “As we look ahead to the continued expansion of Call of Duty: Warzone, it is more important than ever that we promote closer integration and coordination in the studio – embedding will make this possible.”
He said this was part of a plan that started a few months ago, but that it intensified in December when the company laid off some staff, leading to a strike among the Raven testers. The strike lasted seven weeks.
He said other studios in Activision used the “embedded model” to better coordinate staffing and result in a fast-moving, live-services operation.
But union observers questioned whether the action was retaliation against workers for: vote for a union. More than 55% of game developers prefer a union, according to a survey released last week by the Game Developers Conference.
Fight from above in Nakatomi Plaza in Warzone.
On Friday, the Game Workers Alliance Union (CWA), with Communications Workers of America, said it had formed a union in Raven’s quality assurance division. It happened after Microsoft agreed to acquire Activision Blizzard for $75 billion.
“Today, I am proud to join the vast majority of my colleagues in building our union, Game Workers Alliance (CWA),,” said Becka Aigner, QA Functional Tester II at Raven, in a statement from the group on Friday. “In the video game industry, especially Raven QA, people are passionate about their work and the content they create. We want to ensure that the passion of these employees is accurately reflected in our workplace and the content we create. Our union is how our collective voices can be heard through leadership.”
The workers in the aspiring union called the Game Workers Alliance cited accusations of a toxic corporate culture at their parent company as one of the reasons that motivated them to organize. Last July, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a gender-based lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, alleging the company had a “frat boy culture” that included excessive drinking and sexual harassment.
— CWA (@CWAUnion) January 21, 2022
Raven Software itself has over 300 employees and works on Call of Duty titles such as Warzone and others.
The company issued the following statement this afternoon: “At Activision Blizzard, we deeply respect the rights of all employees to make their own decisions about joining or not joining a union. We carefully reviewed the CWA’s initial request last week. reviewed and considered and tried, together with the CWA, to find a mutually acceptable solution that would have accelerated the election process, but unfortunately the parties could not agree.”
The company added: “We expect the union to proceed with filing a petition with the NLRB for an election. If filed, the company will immediately formally respond to that petition. Most importantly for the company is that any eligible upcoming employee will have the opportunity to have their voice heard and their individual vote counted, and we believe all employees at Raven should have a voice in this decision.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that a Call of Duty: Warzone sequel is expected in 2023. It also said Sony will have the rights to publish that title, as well as the annual Call of Duty releases in 2022 and 2023.
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