Wisconsin video game firm workers unionize with CWA
Jae C. Hong/AP

MIDDLETON, Wisc.—By a 19-3 margin among 28 workers, employees at Activision’s Raven Software video game studio in Middleton, Wis., voted to unionize with the Communications Workers’ Game Workers Alliance. It was the alliance’s third organizing win in the rapidly growing industry, but the first at “a major video game publisher,” CWA said.

But even as the workers jumped and cheered in Middleton, Wis., former Activision worker Jessica Gonzalez, also with CWA support, headed for federal court in San Francisco, to sue the firm and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission over a planned settlement that would give 60 past victims of five years of sexual harassment and discrimination $18 million in damages, but bar future lawsuits by another 1,000.

The dual developments on May 23 highlight how the video game industry, which has wide appeal to younger people, exploits workers and how they’ve fought back. The struggle at the Middleton plant actually led to a company-forced five-week walkout after Activision arbitrarily laid off 12 of its quality assurance testers.

It was the Activision workers’ third forced strike since Gonzalez first went public with the sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination charges filed last July with the EEOC.

“Beautiful day in Madison, Wis.,” the group’s leader there live-streamed and tweeted. “We are going to celebrate and get ready to make a contract. I’m so excited. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m like literally shaking. It’s been months. It’s been so many months trying to get this going and stop moving. We could not have done it without everyone’s support.”

CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens, a News Guild member, said the video game maker workers overcame company labor law-breaking to gain recognition.

“Activision did everything it could, including breaking the law, to try to prevent the Raven QA workers from forming their union. It didn’t work, and we are thrilled to welcome them as CWA members,” Steffens’ statement said.

“Quality assurance workers at Raven Software are bringing much-needed change to Activision and to the video game industry. At this critical time for the company and its employees, these workers will soon have an enforceable union contract and a voice on the job.”

Steffens said the firm’s settlement with the EEOC is another matter.

“Over the past year, Activision Blizzard has skated on thin ice on multiple allegations and somehow gotten away with it,” said Steffens. The union also sought to intervene on the workers’ side. “This paltry settlement makes it crystal clear the only way for workers to secure a safe work environment is to have an active role shaping policies and internal accountability mechanisms moving forward.” The settlement bars further suits from other harmed workers.

“Activision employees deserve transparency and accountability from their employer. But most importantly, they deserve a workplace free from harassment, discrimination, and abuse.”

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

“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.”

U.S. District Court Judge Dale Fischer’s approval of the EEOC settlement with the game firm “allowed Activision and the EEOC to keep the affected workers and others who had an interest in holding the company accountable out of the process,” said Gonzalez. “Eligible employees should not have to give up their right to pursue other legal remedies if they accept the settlement.” Republican President George W. Bush nominated Fischer in 2003.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.