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QA testers at Activision Blizzard's Raven Software announce intent to unionise

"We ask that...leadership voluntarily recognise our union and respect our right to organise without retaliation or interference".

Quality assurance testers at Activision Blizzard's Wisconsin-based Raven Software studio - where strike action has been ongoing since December, following the firing of 12 members of the developer's QA team - have announced their intention to form a worker's union.

The instigating incident - which came amid an already troublesome time for Activision Blizzard management, who had been repeatedly criticised following the California state lawsuit calling the publisher a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women" - took place in December when around a third of the QA team was laid off. The firings, coming after a five-week period of overtime and anticipated end-of-year crunch, occurred despite Activision allegedly promising the team it was working on a pay restructure to increase wages.

"Today, one by one, valuable members of the team were called into meetings and told they were being let go", Raven Software's associate community manager, Austin O'Brien, tweeted at the time. Some of the affected team had reportedly relocated to Wisconsin, without assistance from Raven, in anticipation of the return to in-person work, due to reassurances from the studio that their workload would remain consistent.

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Shortly after the incident, staff at Ravensoft announced a walkout in solidarity with those fired, writing, "The Raven QA department is essential to the day-to-day functioning of the studio as a whole. Terminating the contracts of high performing testers in a time of consistent work and profit puts the health of the studio at risk." The group demanded, "Every member of the QA team, including those terminated on Friday, must be offered full time positions."

As the ongoing strike action moved into the new year, Activision Blizzard released its own statement, claiming, "Raven leadership has engaged in dialogue with its staff to hear concerns and explain the company's overall investment in development resources. As previously announced, we are growing our overall investment in development and operations resources and converting nearly 500 temporary workers to full-time employees across our studios, the largest conversion in Activision's history."

Despite that assertion, the ABK Workers Alliance - a group of employees pushing for workplace reform at the publisher - has remained adamant that those striking (said to be "several dozen workers" in a new report by the Washington Post) are still yet to receive a response to its demands from Activision Blizzard leadership.

It's in this climate that QA workers at Raven Software have - ignoring Activision Blizzard's insistence that "active, transparent dialogue between leaders and employees" was better than unionisation - now announced their intention to unionise, forming a group of around 34 employees under the banner Game Workers Alliance, in conjunction with the Communication Workers of America (CWA). According to Polygon, the unionisation efforts were supported by a "supermajority" of Raven Software QA staff - around 78% of all eligible workers.

"We ask that Activision Blizzard management respect Raven QA workers by voluntarily recognising CWA's representation without hesitation," CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement accompanying the announcement. "A collective bargaining agreement will give Raven QA employees a voice at work, improving the games they produce and making the company stronger. Voluntary recognition is the rational way forward."

In a statement shared by Bloomberg's Jason Schreier, Activision Blizzard appeared to downplay the significance of today's unionisation news, saying it was "carefully reviewing the request for voluntary recognition from the CWA, which seeks to organise around three dozen of the company's nearly 10,000 employees."

Following today's announcement, the newly formed Game Workers Alliance shared its five core principles on Twitter:

  • Solidarity: The voices of workers should be heard by leadership. By uniting in solidarity, we can ensure our message is further reaching, and more effective.
  • Sustainability: Shortened development timelines sacrifice project quality and damage the mental and physical health of our team. "Crunch" is not healthy for any product, worker, or company. Realistic timelines and development plans are essential to achieving sustainability in the games industry.
  • Transparency: Leadership must communicate openly and frequently about any decisions that will affect the working life of their employees. Work and quality of life suffer when changes are unpredictable and explanations are withheld.
  • Equity: Quality Assurance Testers 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.
  • Diversity: All voices deserve to be heard. Empowering underrepresented voices is key to fostering a truly creative and successful work environment.

"We ask that Raven Software and Activision leadership voluntarily recognise our union and respect our right to organise without retaliation or interference," it added. "We aim to work together with leadership to create a healthy and prosperous work environment for all people, to develop successful and sustainable products, and to support the enjoyment of our players."

Today's announcement comes in the week that Microsoft dropped the bombshell news it was purchasing the beleagured Activision Blizzard for $70BN. In response, the ABK Worker's Alliance called the acquisition "surprising", but said it did not change its goals. "[We] remain committed to fighting for workplace improvements and the rights of our employees regardless of who is financially in control", it wrote in a statement.

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