The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled today that the first union at a major U.S. gaming company can file for a formal union election.
In January, the quality assurance (QA) department of Raven Software, a division of Activision Blizzard, formed their historic union. Predictably, the video game giant — which was recently acquired by Microsoft for $68.7 billion — did not grant the union voluntary recognition.
Usually, when this happens, the union can file for an election with the National Labor Board of Relations (NLRB), and if over 50% of eligible employees vote to unionize, then the company is legally required to recognize and bargain with them. But in the case of Raven Software, who formed the Game Workers Alliance through the Communication Workers of America (CWA), their parent company attempted to stop the union from even getting to a vote.
When the Game Workers Alliance filed for an election, Activision Blizzard tried to block the election by claiming that any union must include all 230 employees, which would make it much harder for the union to win the vote in an eventual election. But the NLRB ruled today that the 21-member department can hold a union election separate from the rest of Raven Software.
“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,” a spokesperson from Activision Blizzard told TechCrunch. “We believe a direct relationship with team members is the best path to achieving individual and company goals.”
The spokesperson added that Activision Blizzard is reviewing legal options and may file an appeal to today’s ruling.
Before announcing their intent to unionize in January, Raven Software QA testers — who mostly work on “Call of Duty” — had been on strike for five weeks, protesting the early termination of twelve contractors, or about a third of the department.
“This was coming off of a five-week stretch of overtime, consistent work. And we realized in that moment that our day-to-day work and our crucial role in the games industry as QA was not being taken into consideration,” Onah Rongstad, a QA tester at Raven Software, told TechCrunch at the time.
Activision Blizzard has made some effort to improve working conditions since then — earlier this month, Activision Blizzard converted about 1100 QA contractors to full-time staffers and increased the minimum wage to $20 per hour. But Activision Blizzard claimed that, due to laws under the National Labor Relations Act, the company wasn’t allowed to change the pay rate of its employees in the midst of a union effort. The CWA, however, said that this was a “disingenuous” attempt at union busting.
Assuming all goes as planned, the Raven Software QA testers’ union election will take place via mail between April 29 and May 20.