When a PlayStation 5 controller comes down the assembly line at Corsair’s Duluth, Georgia, warehouse, it’s disassembled to make way for new parts carefully installed by SCUF Gaming’s assembly team. SCUF’s bespoke PS5 controllers start at $200 and go up from there, upgrading Sony’s standard DualSense design with new grips, thumbsticks, triggers, and other modules designed for customizable, high-performance gaming. These controllers, whether it’s SCUF’s upgrades on PlayStation or the team’s versions of Xbox peripherals, have increasingly become a standard for professional gamers — precise tools for the demands of competition.
The people who put together these controllers are experts at their craft, cranking out hundreds of controllers per day even in the so-called offseason. One Corsair warehouse worker, who asked not to be named because they’re not authorized to speak about the business, said that they’re asked to produce 20 of these customized controllers per hour, adding up to roughly 150 PlayStation 5 controllers per day. Corsair will bring in nearly $40,000 for these 150 controllers, the assembly line worker said — “a lot more than we make in a year.” Corsair expects to make up to $1.55 billion in net revenue in 2023 across its Corsair, SCUF, Elgato, Origin, and Drop operations. Now, Corsair’s Duluth warehouse workers want to be compensated fairly for the labor that drives that value. Working with Teamsters Local 728, these Corsair and SCUF Gaming workers are heading toward a union vote with the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB union election is set for Sept. 28, and 85 workers at the Duluth warehouse are eligible to vote.
“We make the computers people play games on,” RMA tester Max Madsen told Polygon. “We make the controllers people play on. We’re building these $250-to-$400 controllers, these $1,500-to-$5,000 PCs. When people eventually play on them, they don’t expect that there’s people like us sitting there and building them, piece by piece.”
Several of Corsair’s gaming computers cost more than the amount of money the person who put it together makes in two weeks, Madsen added. “You’re building more than what the company believes you’re worth in just a half a day.”
Corsair was founded in 1994 as Corsair Microsystems, specializing in computer hardware and gaming peripherals. The company has expanded since with several acquisitions, including streaming tech company Elgato Gaming in 2018, custom PC company Origin and peripheral specialists SCUF Gaming in 2019, and retailer Drop in 2023. In 2020, Corsair went public on the stock market. Corsair co-founder Andy Paul still leads the company as CEO, and had a total compensation package of $9.9 million in 2022, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. (The SEC filing says the compensation “actually paid” to Paul weighs in at $4.5 million.) The “annual total compensation” for Corsair’s more than 2,000 workers has a median of $42,455, the same document said.
Supporting the workers at CORSAIR in their efforts to form a union. I deeply care about the well-being of our workers in my district & across GA. There is a huge intersection b/w business & labor. Nothing is better for businesses than when their employees are well taken care of. pic.twitter.com/aU5YSyeo14— Nabilah Islam (@NabilahIslam) September 13, 2023
Madsen said that despite being at the company for years, he gets paid only 45 cents per hour more than someone who’s just starting. Some employees got that 3% raise several months ago, which adds up to 45 cents, to adjust for inflation — something the workers say didn’t actually do much in that regard. The raise, too, had a cutoff date that assembly line worker Amarion Sutton said was moved around; he joined in October and was expected to get the 3% increase, but the threshold was moved to apply to employees joining before October, so he never got that adjustment. The workers added that there are several people working at the Corsair warehouse who have multiple jobs or qualify for government assistance; they can’t keep up with their bills on just the Corsair salary alone, despite the hard labor involved.
“We’re not asking to bankrupt the company,” Madsen said. “We want a little piece of the pie, so when we go home, we can pay for groceries. We can pay for our kids to go to an after-school program.”
Beyond compensation and benefits, Corsair’s Duluth warehouse workers are looking to shore up job security and to improve communication and transparency. The Corsair warehouse increases worker count during the holidays — the peak season — and “purges” workers afterward, a practice that has people on edge. “How do I know that I’m not next?” asked Sutton. “We don’t know what we’re walking into,” another worker added. “All those people walked in thinking, Oh, I’m going to clock out and be back Monday. And that wasn’t the case.”
A union can’t prevent layoffs or firings, but Corsair warehouse union workers are looking for what it can do: to ensure protections for workers to have a say in their workplace, and to provide support for laid-off employees, such as in the form of severance and extended benefits. The three workers Polygon spoke to said that Corsair has consistently taken away benefits, like a grace period for clocking in. Previously, workers had five minutes to clock in, but now they get dinged for being even a minute late. “We have a lot of that,” Madsen said. “People are just, like, one minute late, and they can’t even make it through the doors to swipe their cards, and they’re being counted for being one minute late.”
The Duluth warehouse workers Polygon spoke to want to be able to address these issues transparently with management, instead of facing the constant fear of getting reprimanded — or worse. Corsair management has not responded to Polygon’s inquiries regarding the union, nor commented publicly on it. Workers said management hired a consultant, Peter List, to meet directly with workers. List is the host of a radio show called Union Free Radio, which he allegedly plugged to the workers. Sutton described the meetings as “uncomfortable.” Corsair also hired Littler Mendelson, according to NLRB filings, a self-described union avoidance firm that made headlines for its approach to Starbucks’ and Apple’s union campaigns.
“[Corsair] was willing to hire somebody to get us off of this, but they can’t simply hear us out,” Sutton said.