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QA testers at Activision Blizzard studio Raven Software win vote to unionise

"Even a small group of folks... can face up against a AAA studio giant like Activision, and come out the other side victorious."

A group of 28 QA testers at Activision Blizzard's Wisconsin-based Raven Software studio have, despite the publisher's ongoing anti-unionisation efforts, won their vote to unionise.

Quality Assurance testers at Raven Software formally announced their intent to unionise under the name Game Workers Alliance in January - amid then-ongoing strike action following the firing of 12 members of the developer's QA team - but when Activision Blizzard missed a deadline to voluntarily recognise the union, the group filed a petition with independent government agency the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to initiate a union election.

Activision Blizzard contested the filing, but its arguments were rejected by NLRB, whereupon the publisher was reportedly began ramping up its anti-unionisation efforts.

Activision Blizzard executives had already contacted staff during the Game Workers Alliance's initial push for unionisation, saying unions "could hurt our ability to continue creating great games" and were inferior to "active, transparent dialogue between leaders and employees", but with union elections looming, Raven management began organising meetings and town halls in which it was reportedly inferred unionisation would "impede game development and affect promotions and benefits". Studio employees were also send an email with an attachment simply reading "Please vote no".

However, it's now clear Activision's efforts didn't have the desired effect. As reported by the Washington Post, the Milwaukee office of the National Labor Relations Board today counted mail ballots submitted by Raven QA testers, with the final tally seeing 19 voting in favour of unionisation and three against - making the Game Workers Alliance one of the first legally recognised unions at a major video game publisher in the US.

Following today's results, Becka Aigner, a Raven Software QA tester who was part of the vote, told the Washington Post, "The outcome of this election, the voice of the people coming together to vote yes for this union, is further validation that even a small group of folks in Madison Wisconsin standing together in solidarity can face up against a AAA studio giant like Activision, and come out the other side victorious.

"Now that the fight for recognition is through, we can focus our efforts on negotiations. We'll fight for respect, fight for better wages, better benefits, better work-life balance, fight for sustainability and job security, and continue to fight for our fellow workers in solidarity."

An unnamed QA tester added, "What's even more exciting than what this means for us at Raven is the precedent this sets for the game industry. Quality assurance testers being underpaid and exploited is the standard and with unions we can change that. I hope that ours is the first union of many for QA workers and I'm really looking forward to seeing which studio is next."

Activision Blizzard, however, was rather less enthusiastic following today's news, telling the Washington Post that while it 'respects and believes' in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union, "We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees."

Today's landmark victory comes as Activision Blizzard - which was acquired by Microsoft for $69bn in January - continues its attempts to put the last nine months of shocking allegations into its workplace culture, and the treatment of employees under its watch, behind it.

Following a State of California lawsuit filing last July, which described the publisher as a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women", CEO Bobby Kotick became the focus of a damning report claiming he was aware of sexual misconduct within the company "for years". More recently, the parents of a former Activision Blizzard employee who committed suicide during a company retreat in 2017 launched a lawsuit suing the publisher for wrongful death, alleging the suicide was the result of sexual harassment by work colleagues.

In March, a US district court judge said they were "prepared to approve" Activision Blizzard's controversial $18m USD settlement of a separate sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year, despite objections from other parties, but events took a further dramatic turn in April when the governor of California was accused of interfering to support Activision Blizzard in the state discrimination and harassment lawsuit that kickstarted the publisher's woes.