Activision Blizzard employees continue to fight for a seat at the table

On Thursday, Activision Blizzard developers from employee collective ABK Workers Alliance (and at least one dog) gathered outside the gates of Blizzard Entertainment’s campus in Irvine, California. Many raised a fist as a token of solidarity among the workers; others grabbed signs saying ‘end gender inequality’, ‘human rights are not a game’, and even more emphatically, ‘game associations now’. Hundreds more gathered in four states and took part in the latest of several strikes online.

Organizers have timed this week’s demonstration to mark a full year since the state of California filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard for alleged widespread harassment and discrimination within the company. Some employees say there have been few meaningful management changes during that time. But the culture outside of Activision Blizzard has changed, making the company’s blasé dealings with its united employees increasingly dated.

According to the National Labor Relations Board, from October 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022, the number of petitions filed for union representation increased by 58 percent. In games, union shops only grow. Indie studio Tender Claws today announced its own union with the Communications Workers of America. Activision Blizzard is now home to one of the game industry’s first AAA unions, after Call of Duty creator Raven Software’s quality employees successfully gained recognition through election. A second, separate unit of quality assurance staff at Snowstorm Albany, formerly known as Vicarious Visions, is now seeking recognition. “We firmly believe that a seat at the negotiating table will empower us to move the workplace forward, make the environment safer, give us honest and equal conversations and voices about how the company is run,” associate test analyst Matthew Devlin tells WIRED.

That unit, which calls itself GWA Albany, hopes Activision Blizzard will voluntarily recognize their union, Devlin says — a path the company failed to take with Raven Software. “We have a super majority,” he says, referring to the numbers it takes to win an NLRB election for recognition. “If they disown us and didn’t recognize us, that would be a foolish act on their part.” When asked about the company’s plans to recognize the union, Activision Blizzard spokesman Rich George said, “Our top priority remains our employees.”

“We deeply respect the rights of all workers under the law to make their own decisions about joining or not joining a union,” he said in a statement. “We believe that a direct relationship between the company and its employees is the most productive relationship.”

Raven’s department has provided a glimpse of how future unions might function within the company. Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick told employees the company will come to the negotiating table – a legal requirement – after their successful election. Those workers are currently going through “the democratic process and elect their negotiating committee” before meeting the leadership, says CODE-CWA organizer and former Activision Blizzard employee Jessica Gonzalez.

Across the country, hundreds of Activision Blizzard employees in California, Texas, Minnesota and New York hope to gain more than just union recognition. The July 21 strike was in part a response to more troubling changes taking place at the national level. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, companies across the industry have loudly expressed support for the right to abortion and other key health services, such as gender-affirming care. Some Activision Blizzard employees don’t believe the company has done enough to provide support in the wake of that news. As part of this week’s strike against gender inequality, workers demanded protections for workers “against external threats such as the recent overthrow of Roe v. Wade,” as well as “safe and affordable health care policies that adequately protect workers and give them legal access to life-saving procedures such as abortions and trans-affirmative health care.”