A group of Activision Blizzard workers calling itself A Better ABK Workers Alliance announced its members are taking part in an open-ended strike “until demands are met and worker representation is finally given a place within the company.”
“We encourage our peers in the Game Industry to stand with us in creating lasting change,” the worker group tweeted Thursday morning.
A Better ABK has helped organize two previous employee walkouts to protest widespread reports of harassment and gender discrimination at the company (which have led to multiple lawsuits and executive departures). But those walkouts were time-limited efforts to send a message that employees were unhappy with the company’s management direction in general and the leadership of CEO Bobby Kotick in particular.
This week’s strike, though, is a more open-ended work stoppage in direct response to the dismissal of 12 quality assurance contractors at subsidiary Raven Software late last week. The Washington Post reports at least 200 employees across the wider company joined that walkout starting Monday, including “all of Treyarch’s central QA.” Those strikers promised not to return until “every member of the QA team, including those terminated on Friday, must be offered full-time positions,” as the group put it.
Activision Blizzard management reportedly told striking employees that they would only be paid through Wednesday, according to the Post. So employee organizer Jessica Gonzalez—who announced her impending departure from the company last month—has set up an ABK Strike Fund to offset strikers’ lost wages and “assist in the potential relocation of Raven Software workers who were forced to move without financial assistance at the insistence of Activision Blizzard.” As of this writing, that fund has raised over $100,000 of its $1 million goal in roughly 12 hours.
In a GoFundMe post for that Strike Fund, Gonzalez says Activision Blizzard management has “continually abused, union-busted, and remained apathetic to the wishes of workers.” Gonzalez also specifically calls out Activision Blizzards Board of Directors for its “claims to remain confident in Kotick’s unfit and unproductive leadership.”
An Activision union?
Alongside the strike, A Better ABK is also actively working to create a formal labor union by distributing union authorization cards to employees. If a majority of employees sign such cards, it could lead Activision Blizzard to voluntarily recognize the newly formed union or force a formal NLRB vote on union representation among all employees.
To help with that organizing drive and strike fund, A Better ABK has partnered with the Communication Workers of America, which represents over 700,000 employees across a number of industries (including Ars Technica employees through The NewsGuild of New York). In September, CWA helped A Better ABK file an unfair labor practices complaint against the company over alleged “coercive tactics to attempt to prevent its employees from exercising their rights to stand together and demand a more equitable, sustainable, and diverse workplace. It is their right as workers to organize for a work environment free from abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment, and this right is protected by federal labor law.”
Last year, the CWA partnered with Game Workers Unite to form the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees. That was the most wide-ranging effort yet to get union representation for American game developers, who have seen more than their fair share of job insecurity and forced “crunch time,” among other complaints.
Thus far, though, that effort has yet to lead to any major unionized game studios in the US or even any public campaigns for the same before today. That’s despite CODE lead organizer Emma Kinema telling Ars nearly two years ago that the CWA “has been helping organize game workers… at a few companies we don’t discuss [publicly] presently” and that the effort was “coming further along than any previous efforts in the North America region.”
All that history makes A Better ABK’s collective work stoppage and now-public fight for union representation a potential watershed moment in the industry. “There is still a long way to go, but we want to support our coworkers across ABK to finally have a real voice in how our companies are run, because for the past months and years, we have seen our leadership continue to ignore the needs of its employees,” Blizzard Senior UI Engineer and A Better ABK organizer Valentine Powell wrote on Twitter. “We have exhausted as many avenues as we could before looking to unionization.”