The group of QA developers seeking to form a union at Call of Duty studio Raven Software and management at parent company Activision Blizzard could not come to terms. The developers are now planning to petition the National Labor Relations Board in the US for approval.
“We, the supermajority of workers at Raven QA, are proud to be confidently filing our petition with the NLRB for our union election,” the Game Workers Alliance group said on Twitter. “We are deeply disappointed that Raven Software and Activision Blizzard refused to uplift workers rights by choosing to not voluntarily recognize our union in spite of our supermajority support.”
“This was an opportunity for Activision Blizzard to show a real commitment setting new and improved standards for workers. Instead, Activision Blizzard has chosen to make a rushed restructuring announcement to try and hinder our right to organize. Once again, when management is given a choice, they always seem to take the low road,” the group added. “However, we are proud to file with the NLRB as we enjoy supermajority support for our union and know that together, we will gain the formal legal recognition we have earned.”
For its part, Activision Blizzard said in a statement to GameSpot, “We deeply respect the rights of all employees to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union. We carefully reviewed and considered the CWA initial request last week and tried to find a mutually acceptable solution with the CWA that would have led to an expedited election process. Unfortunately, the parties could not reach an agreement.”
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard went on to say that it understands the union group will file a petition with the NLRB, and if that happens, the publisher said it will “respond formally to that petition promptly.”
“The most important thing to the company is that each eligible employee has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their individual vote counted, and we think all employees at Raven should have a say in this decision,” Activision Blizzard said.
The publisher also offered some background on the changes it’s made at Raven Software in the past couple of years. This includes raising minimum compensation for QA staff by 41%, extending paid time off, and giving workers and their significant others additional medical benefits. Additionally, more than 60% of temporary QA staff at Raven was recently converted to full-time, Activision Blizzard said.
QA developers at Raven went on strike in early December in protest of job cuts. This move was part of a wider restructuring, Activision Blizzard management said at the time.
“Activision Publishing is growing its overall investment in its development and operations resources,” a spokesperson said. “We are converting approximately 500 temporary workers to full-time employees in the coming months. Unfortunately, as part of this change, we also have notified 20 temporary workers across studios that their contracts would not be extended.”
The strike ended this week. A group of about three-dozen QA staff at Raven are now pushing to form a worker’s union. The union, the Game Workers Alliance, is calling for transparency from management regarding decisions that will affect the working lives of employees and for managers to work towards “realistic timelines and development plans” to help avoid “crunch.” This is the industry term for extended periods of overtime.”Crunch is not healthy for any product, worker, or company,” the group said.
The organization added that quality assurance testers at Raven “deserve respect, appropriate compensation, and career development opportunities.”
“Quality Assurance is currently an undervalued discipline in the games and software industries. We strive to foster work environments where Quality Assurance Testers are respected and compensated for our essential role in the development process,” the group said.
The Game Workers Alliance also holds a principle focused around diversity. “All voices deserve to be heard. Empowering underrepresented voices is key to fostering a truly creative and successful work environment,” it said.
Activision Blizzard management responded to the announcement of the union by saying in a statement, “While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union.”
Raven also recently announced organizational changes to its development structure. Raven’s QA developers will now work directly with other teams such as animation, art, design, audio, production, and engineering. Activision’s full statement is below.
“Today, Raven Software shared an organizational update that continues the work the studio began in November which will transition Quality Assurance teams to work directly alongside Animation, Art, Design, Audio, Production and Engineering teams within Raven. This change will enhance the collaborative work our teams do to support our games and players and make the opportunities for our talented QA staff even stronger.
“This is the next step in a process that has been carefully considered and in the works for some time, and this structure brings Raven into alignment with the best practices of other prominent Activision studios. It is also a milestone in our broader plan to integrate QA more into the development process as our teams strive to deliver best in class coordination in real-time, live service operations.”
The trade group CWA reacted to Raven’s organization shift, saying it is “nothing more than a tactic to thwart Raven QA workers who are exercising their right to organize.” Activision has more than 10,000 employees worldwide, with the proposed union covering about three-dozen.
Another factor at play here is that Raven Software, along with every other Activision Blizzard studio and franchise, is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft. Just how Microsoft’s proposed buyout of Activision Blizzard might affect unionization efforts and the future of the Call of Duty series remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, Xbox boss Phil Spencer has said the Call of Duty series will continue to be published on PlayStation, similar to how Microsoft’s Minecraft series is released on competing platforms.
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