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Raven Software employees win union election

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)
6 min

A group of 28 quality assurance testers at the Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software won their bid for a union Monday afternoon. The workers, who have organized as the Game Workers Alliance, told The Washington Post they hope others in the video game industry follow suit.

Eligible workers at Raven Software, which makes Call of Duty titles in Madison, Wis., mailed in ballots to vote in the election this month. The Milwaukee office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) counted the ballots via video conference Monday afternoon, with a tally of 19 voting in favor and 3 against. Both parties have until May 31 to file an objection. If no objection is filed, the results become official on that date, and Raven management must begin bargaining with the union in good faith.

The vote comes as Activision Blizzard works on finalizing a deal to be acquired by Microsoft for nearly $69 billion.

“The outcome of this election, the voice of the people coming together to vote yes for this union, is further validation that even a small group of folks in Madison Wisconsin standing together in solidarity can face up against a AAA studio giant like Activision, and come out the other side victorious,” said Becka Aigner, a Raven Software quality assurance tester who was part of the vote. “Now that the fight for recognition is through, we can focus our efforts on negotiations. We’ll fight for respect, fight for better wages, better benefits, better work-life balance, fight for sustainability and job security, and continue to fight for our fellow workers in solidarity.”

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“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union,” Activision Blizzard spokeswoman Jessica Taylor said in a statement to The Post. “We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 of Raven employees. We’re committed to doing what’s best for the studio and our employees.”

On Monday, The National Labor Relations Board also accused Activision Blizzard of illegally threatening employees and their collective action rights with a strict social media policy.

“These allegations are false,” Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor told The Post in a statement. “Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation, and our social media policy expressly incorporates employees’ NLRA rights.”

The unionization push at Raven began after 12 quality assurance (QA) contractors were let go in December 2021. In late January, Raven testers filed a petition with the NLRB for a union election after parent company Activision Blizzard missed a deadline set by the group to voluntarily recognize the nascent union, named the Game Workers Alliance. Days after the petition was filed, Raven management moved quality assurance testers to different departments across the studio, saying the company was moving toward an “embedded tester model.”

Activision Blizzard contested the filing, arguing that any union at Raven would have to encompass all of the studio’s approximately 230 employees, and that the embedded testing model proved that QA was integrated with other teams. Labor lawyers The Post consulted said that asking for a larger eligible voting group was a strategy aimed at diluting union support. The NLRB’s decision in late April rejected Activision’s argument, finding that the set of quality assurance testers was an appropriate bargaining unit.

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The unionization push and the response from management attracted lawmakers’ attention. In February, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) called on Activision CEO Bobby Kotick to stop any union-busting efforts.

The National Labor Relations Board mailed out ballots to quality assurance testers who were with the company during the pay period ending April 16. While the number of Raven quality assurance testers has held steady at around 30 employees, the composition of the team has changed over the course of the five-month unionization effort. Since the 12 QA testers were let go in December, Activision hired nine testers who are now eligible to vote. This led to some scrambling on the potential union’s part to recruit the new hires, Raven workers told The Post.

Management at Raven had been sending employees messages and holding meetings about the upcoming election, according to current Raven Software employees. At an April 26 town hall, leadership at Raven suggested unionization might impede game development and affect promotions and benefits. They sent an email to employees the next day with a graphic attached that read, “Please vote no.”

Several Raven employees told The Post they found management’s anti-union messaging to be disappointing and ineffective, as they voted “yes.”

“I don’t think throughout any of this I’ve really had time to process how I felt,” one Raven QA tester said. “I mailed my ballot, and then got right back to work. I think it will probably all hit me like a ton of bricks when this is finally over.”

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“What’s even more exciting than what this means for us at Raven is the precedent this sets for the game industry,” the tester said. “Quality assurance testers being underpaid and exploited is the standard and with unions we can change that. I hope that ours is the first union of many for QA workers and I’m really looking forward to seeing which studio is next.”

As parts of Activision Blizzard and the games industry pay attention to the Raven vote, a former Raven worker echoed the sentiment that they hoped more organization would spread through the North American gaming industry.

“As I’m no longer with the company, I wish the best for the team and look forward to seeing the results of the union push everyone worked so hard to get to,” said a former Raven quality assurance tester, requesting anonymity for fear of retaliation. They added that the labor movement at Raven helped them see “the greater issues in the game industry” and that they’ve been seeing similar issues at their current workplace.