Activision Blizzard quality assurance workers at the company’s Blizzard Albany studio in New York voted to unionize on Friday. It’s the second merger under Activision Blizzard, following the pitching of Raven Software in May.
A group of about 20 QA workers called the Game Workers Alliance Albany was given the right to vote in October, after which Activision Blizzard asked for the election to be delayed for the board to review. The National Labor Relations Board rejected the request on Wednesday. As with Raven Software, Activision Blizzard wanted the entire studio to vote for unity.
Blizzard Albany’s QA staff voted until the count, originally scheduled for November 18th, but delayed due to inclement weather – a blizzard. The results of the election came on Friday: 14 “yes” votes for the union, no votes against. There were 18 voters, three votes were challenged, the NLRB said. GWA Albany is represented by the Communications Workers of America – Campaign to Organize Digital Workers (CODE-CWA), as is Raven Software.
Amanda Deep, assistant test analyst at Blizzard Albany, said in a statement that the group was inspired by Raven Software’s QA alliance, and that GWA Albany hopes to inspire more video game studios to join the alliance.
“It took incredible work and determination to take this fight forward,” Deep said. “With this victory, we defend ourselves and each other, because we care a lot about our work and the games we play. Organizing has empowered all of us to fight with all our might for the dignity and respect that every worker deserves at work.”
Reached for comment, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson provided the following statement to Polygon:
We consider all options, focusing on what’s best for all employees and providing the best games for our millions of players. We still believe our entire Albany team has the right to vote. It’s about fundamental fairness and rights for every member of the team.
GWA Albany announced its intention to unionize in July. After Friday’s vote, workers will begin preparing for a contract deal once the results are approved by the NLRB. Raven Software’s QA team is currently negotiating with Activision Blizzard management.
Activision Blizzard has been accused of union busting ahead of Blizzard Albany’s union election. In October, CWA filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the company after Lulu Cheng Meservey, chief communications officer, posted a company-wide Slack message that was “disparaging to the union,” according to the complaint. The message received a lot of negative emoji reactions from employees on Slack, Meservey acknowledged, though he called the complaint “bogus” in a press release at the time.
Blizzard Albany’s QA staff, like the rest of Blizzard Albany, focuses primarily on the Diablo franchise – esp diablo 4, It is planned to start in 2023. Activision Blizzard used the upcoming game in its argument that all Blizzard Albany (formerly Vicarious Visions) employees should participate in the vote. QA workers are often among the most vulnerable in the industry due to low pay and intense crisis.
“Albany Blizzard employees have never wavered in the face of adversity,” CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “Instead, they remained steadfast and patient, which is a testament to the organization they put in to ensure that quality assurance staff were treated fairly and respectfully in their work. QA workers at Blizzard Albany and Raven Software elevated the conversation around unions in the video game industry, and they also opened the door for other studios to organize.
Like the rest of Activision Blizzard, Blizzard Albany will be merged with Microsoft after Microsoft approves its $68.7 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard. If that deal goes through, Microsoft has said it won’t stand in the way of the union’s efforts — in fact, it will remain “neutral” toward the CWA after signing an agreement with them. This agreement is expected to enter into force 60 days after the closing of the deal.
GWA Albany is the second group to come together under Activision and is part of a growing movement in video game industry mergers. It joins BioWare support studio Keywords Studios and indie company Tender Claws as union shops. The community’s interest extends beyond the video game industry and extends to board games and desktop computers. Despite a steady decline in membership, this support reflects a nationwide trend.