Since a group of 34 quality assurance testers at Raven Software voted to unionize earlier this month, the studio’s parent company, Activision Blizzard, has been making moves that will undermine that support and make it harder for workers to organize. This morning, Activision VP of QA Chris Arends sent the clearest message yet about where executives stand on the unionization effort, and (spoiler) it’s firmly against.
In an internal, locked Slack channel on Monday morning, Arends asked himself six questions about the potential union and provided answers for employees from Activision’s point of view, as shared on Twitter by union organizer Jessica Gonzalez. Employees were unable to respond to the message. Each answer diminished the benefits of unionization, but the fourth prompt offered the most explicit takedown of the organization process. It reads as follows:
We heard that the union will protect employees and provide employees with job security?
Job security here at ABK rests with our ability to produce epic entertainment for our fans. A union doesn’t do anything to help us produce world-class games, and the bargaining process is not typically quick, often reduces flexibility, and can be adversarial and lead to negative publicity. All of this could hurt our ability to continue creating great games.
The fifth answer argued that union-driven bargaining takes too long to be effective, stating the obvious in the process: “A unionized company cannot act quickly on its own if the union does not agree with its position.” The final answer reminded employees that they don’t have to vote in favor of the union when an election takes place.
On Twitter, Gonzalez called the post “sad.”
This is the latest move from Activision designed to halt momentum on the unionization process at Raven. Just three days after employees announced they had gathered a supermajority of signatures required to unionize under the name Game Workers Alliance, Raven head Brian Raffel revealed a reorganization plan that breaks up the studio’s QA department, moving employees to disparate teams.
Communications Workers of America, which is backing GWA, said on Twitter that the shuffle was “nothing more than a tactic to thwart Raven QA workers who are exercising their right to organize.”
Activision also failed to voluntarily recognize GWA, which means they’ll have to seek a vote through the NLRB, a process that can take years. Additionally, Activision is pushing for the vote to include all employees at Raven, rather than only QA workers, reducing the potential for success.
Arends’ Slack message — trying to convince employees that unions will make their works lives slower and crappier — falls in line with Activision’s previous tactics.
Activision Blizzard is currently the subject of intense scrutiny from multiple angles. GWA will be the first union at a AAA game development studio in North America, potentially setting the stage for more organization across the industry. Plus, Activision Blizzard is the subject of a lawsuit and multiple investigations into reports of systemic gender discrimination and sexual harassment at the studio, with incidents allegedly dating back decades.
And finally, Microsoft is in the process of buying Activision Blizzard, Raven Software and all, in a deal worth $69 billion. It’ll be the largest acquisition in video game history and it marks the industry’s era of consolidation. One day after news of the acquisition went live, Activision told the SEC that there were no unionization efforts underway at its studios, though in the months before, executives told Raven employees to “consider the consequences” of signing union cards.