Workers at Activision Blizzard's Raven Software vote in favor of forming union

Game Workers Alliance was established in January in response to Activision's decision to lay off 12 of Raven Software's QA contractors

A group of video game testers at Activision Blizzard's Raven Software studio have voted in favor of being represented by the Communications Workers of America.

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Quality assurance (QA) employees voted 19-3 in favor of forming the video game publishing giant's first-ever union, the Game Workers Alliance, according to the National Labor Relations Board. If no objections are filed, the results of the election will be certified on May 31. 

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The Game Workers Alliance was established in January in response to Activision's decision to lay off 12 of Raven Software's QA contractors. Prior to the group's formation, 60 Raven Software workers walked out to protest the layoffs on Dec. 6 and went on strike for five weeks. The Raven QA team predominantly works on the studio’s popular Call of Duty series.

"Five months ago, we formed the Game Workers Alliance-CWA on the principles of solidarity, sustainability, transparency, equity, and diversity. Activision Blizzard worked tirelessly to undermine our efforts to establish our union, but we persevered. Now that we’ve won our election, it is our duty to protect these foundational values on which our union stands," the GWA said in a statement on Monday.

 "Our biggest hope is that our union serves as inspiration for the growing movement of workers organizing at video game studios to create better games and build workplaces that reflect our values and empower all of us. We look forward to working with management to positively shape our working conditions and the future of Activision Blizzard through a strong union contract."

Prior to the vote, Activision declined to voluntarily recognize the Game Workers Alliance. They also urged workers to "consider the consequences" of signing union authorization cards.  

"We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union," an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told FOX Business. "We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees."

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The Raven Software QA strike marked the third work stoppage since July, when Activision Blizzard was hit with a lawsuit from California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing (CDFEH) accusing the company of fostering a "fratboy workplace culture" and ignoring female employees' complaints of harassment, discrimination and retaliation, as well as paying female employees less than their male counterparts and providing them with fewer opportunities to advance. 

In addition to CDFEH's lawsuit, the company reached an $18 million settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over allegations of gender-based harassment and retaliation. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has also subpoenaed Activision CEO Bobby Kotick and other executives over their disclosures regarding "employment matters and related issues." Employees and shareholders have called on Kotick to resign after he was separately accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.

The union victory comes follows months of turmoil related to allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Activision Blizzard and its chief executive Bobby Kotick. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Moments ahead of the union vote, the NLRB announced that its Los Angeles region office found merit to allegations that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act by threatening employees who were attempting to unionize through enforcement of its social media policy. 

"These allegations are false," Activision told FOX Business. "Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation, and our social media policy expressly incorporates employees’ NLRA rights." 

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The union victory comes as Activision Blizzard shareholders have approved a $68.7 billion sale to Microsoft. The Microsoft acquisition is expected to close in fiscal year 2023, subject to customary closing conditions and the completion of a regulatory review. Upon closing of the deal, the unit will fall under Microsoft gaming CEO Phil Spencer.