The fight to unionize the games industry made it all the way to the White House on Thursday. That’s where Alex Speidel, one of the lead organizers from the United Paizo Workers met with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and secretary of labor Marty Walsh inside the Oval Office. The meeting was confirmed with an official photo on the President’s Twitter account.
Present in the Oval Office with Speidel were members of Titmouse Productions (The Legend of Vox Machina), who are organized under the IATSE. Amazon Labor Union president Chris Smalls was also there. The most high-profile labor leader on hand for the event, Smalls was asked to testify before the Senate Budget Committee by its chairman, Senator Bernie Sanders.
“This is not a left or right thing,” said Smalls, speaking about the right to unionize without illegal interference from management. “This is a working-class issue, and it’s the workers at the bottom that make these corporations go.”
Sanders took the opportunity to slam what he called Amazon’s union-busting activity. “Amazon has done everything possible — legal and illegal — to defeat union organizing efforts,” he said.
While workers at Amazon distribution centers around the country have had a difficult time organizing their workplaces, workers at Paizo had much smoother sailing on their way to voluntary recognition — that is, to being formally recognized as a collective bargaining unit by Paizo management. According to Speidel, the final push was made with the help of a contingent of freelance writers who simply stopped accepting new work.
According to a news release issued by the Paizo Workers, Speidel shared with President Biden how those freelancers “began to refuse assignments from the company in solidarity with the workers’ request for voluntary recognition of their union.” That collective action, Speidel said, was key in bolstering the full-time workers’ position.
“Being able to discuss CWA’s campaign to organize game and tech workers, and to share the incredible work being done by the United Paizo Workers and our team of freelance writers, was truly an honor,” Speidel said in that news release. “It is my hope that the administration continues their support of workers who are organizing to join unions in all industries, and that we are able to take this momentum back to CWA to continue the CODE-CWA campaign. Every worker deserves a union!”
CODE-CWA was spun up in 2020 with the help of Emma Kinema, co-founder of Game Workers Unite, a grassroots organization working to unionize the video game industry. Ironically, it’s the workers at a company best known for its pen-and-paper role-playing games like Pathfinder and Starfinder who helped lead the way. Additional unionization efforts have since cropped up at Raven Software (part of Activision Blizzard) and at Keywords Studios, which works with BioWare and other developers and publishers to provide quality assurance (QA) support.