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Activision QA workers win NLRB ruling, vote on union in April

Activision Blizzard is ‘reviewing legal options regarding a potential appeal’

In this photo illustration, a Raven Software Corporation... Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Raven Software’s quality assurance employees will vote, as a 21-person unit, on whether to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Friday. The decision comes after Raven’s owner, Activision Blizzard, challenged organization efforts and sought to make the entire 230-person studio vote on the union.

All eligible Raven Software QA workers will be mailed ballots on April 29, and the ballots will be counted on May 23, the NLRB said. Should a supermajority of eligible workers vote yes, their union, called Game Workers Alliance, will move into contract negotiations with Activision Blizzard.

Activision Blizzard and Raven Software QA workers have been awaiting a decision from the NLRB since a hearing in February. In testimony during that hearing, Raven Software management and workers were questioned on the studios’ restructuring, in January, as it applied to union-eligible workers.

An Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Polygon the company will review its options regarding a potential appeal. The full statement is as follows:

While we respect the NLRB process, we are disappointed that a decision that could significantly impact the future of our entire studio will be made by fewer than 10% of our employees. We believe a direct relationship with team members is the best path to achieving individual and company goals. We are reviewing legal options regarding a potential appeal.

On social media, Raven Software QA workers expressed excitement over the OK to vote. The group thanked supporters in a Twitter message: “We are so proud to announce that the NLRB ruled that our unit is eligible for election,” the group wrote. “Thank you to everyone supporting our campaign since our initial strike up until this very moment! Time for democracy!”

Raven Software’s union push, in partnership with the Communication Workers of America (CWA), kicked off in January following an employee walkout after a group of Raven Software contract workers were told they would not be among the 500 employees converted to new full-time positions last year. The NLRB hearing regarding the union’s scope began shortly after Activision Blizzard refused to voluntarily recognize the group.

Since then, Activision Blizzard announced its intention to convert another 1,000 QA workers to full-time positions, increase their pay to $20 per hour, and allow QA workers access to bonuses and benefits. Raven Software QA workers were not offered the same pay raises at that time; Activision Blizzard claimed that was because of “legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act.”

QA and contract workers in the video game industry are often characterized as an unskilled department. In August, Activision Blizzard QA workers told Polygon that QA contract cycles created a system that made it hard for workers to advance or feel stable in their careers, on top of the low pay and intense crunch endemic to their jobs. The Raven workers’ victory on Friday is therefore a landmark decision, with the potential to influence the video game industry as a whole.

Microsoft is preparing to acquire Activision Blizzard in a $68.7 billion deal that will be reviewed by government regulators. Activision chief executive Bobby Kotick, who has faced calls for resignation from Activision Blizzard workers and the press (including this outlet), will continue to lead the company, at least until the Microsoft deal is finalized.