Raven Studio game testers can vote to form a union, NLRB rules

Raven Studio game testers can vote to form a union, NLRB rules

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A group of 21 quality assurance testers at Raven Software have received the blessing of the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a union vote, per a 27-page ruling from the agency released Friday. Raven’s parent company — Activision Blizzard —did not respond in time to a request for voluntary recognition for the new union, the Game Workers Alliance, back in January. 

Tensions within the company came to a head last December, when approximately a third of the group’s QA testers were suddenly laid off — after several months of promises to improve compensation. Raven workers began organizing shortly thereafter, and engaged in a weeks-long strike. 

Once they returned to work, however, they were informed their unit would be broken up. “Our QA colleagues will embed directly within various teams across the studio,” was how Raven Studio head Brian Raffel put it at the time, a move the seemed intended to stymie unionization efforts. 

Since then, Activision tried to convince the NLRB that the dispersed nature of the QA team should be grounds to dismiss the vote. But as per today’s ruling, the agency didn’t sign on to that view. According to Jennifer Hadsall, a regional director of the agency, there is “no evidence that Q.A. testers are being eliminated or that their role would fundamentally change with the embed process.” Activision also tried (and failed) to convince the NLRB that the entirety of Raven Studio’s estimated 230 employees would need to be included in the vote.

“We are pleased that after reviewing the evidence, the National Labor Relations Board rejected Raven Software management’s attempts to undermine our efforts to form a union,” a group of Game Workers Alliance organizers told Engadget over email. “It’s now time for Raven management to stop trying to prevent us from exercising our rights. We are looking forward to voting for – and winning – our union.”

According to a statement from Activision, the company is “disappointed that a decision that could significantly impact the future of our entire studio will be made by fewer than 10 percent of our employees.” The company is also seeking avenues to appeal the NLRB’s ruling. 

Raven software was founded over 30 years ago and had a hand in producing some beloved games like Heretic and Hexen during the golden age of first-person shooters. Since its acquisition by Activision in 1997, it’s role has largely been reduced to maintaining the Call of Duty franchise. 

Tensions between Raven and its owners have mirrored those within Activision Blizzard at large, where sexual misconduct claims, allegedly covered up by the company’s top brass have roiled rank-and-file workers. Employees staged a walkout last November in disgust, to voice dissent against the corporate culture in general and CEO Bobby Kotick in specific. Earlier this week it was reported that on two separate occasions, Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg used her influence to allegedly quash negative stories about Kotick, her then-boyfriend, that were in the works at British tabloid The Daily Mail

The NLRB will begin mailing out ballots to eligible part-time and full-time QA workers, who will have until May 20 to cast; a vote count is presently schedule to take place on May 23. 

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