Is the Video Game Industry Closer to Unionization Than Ever Before?

"Video game companies in North America have never successfully unionized," reports the Washington Post. "That changed December 16, when a union at the indie developer Vodeo Games was recognized by management." While video game companies rake in billions of dollars, their workers complain of unfair labor practices, long hours, sexual harassment and workplace misconduct... In the past, game workers would avoid speaking out publicly against their employer, as it could tarnish their reputation within the industry and make it difficult to find future jobs. But after decades of major gaming companies expecting employees to work 80- or 90-hour workweeks, and of workers fearing retaliation from management, Vodeo employees told The Post that the tide was changing... What's happening in the games industry at Activision Blizzard and Vodeo is unprecedented. No single gaming company like Activision Blizzard has dominated the headlines with lawsuit after lawsuit for months before, topped off with an explosive Wall Street Journal report in November that claimed CEO Bobby Kotick did not inform the company's board of directors for years about sexual misconduct allegations. A petition calling for Kotick's resignation that was circulated among employees netted over 1,850 signatures... At least several dozen Activision Blizzard workers across the company are in the midst of their third work stoppage following a California state agency lawsuit that alleged widespread sexual harassment and misconduct at the company. The strike is on its third week as workers demand that management rehire 12 contractors from Call of Duty developer Raven Software and promote all Raven quality assurance testers to full-time status. Some in-person demonstrations have taken place at the quality assurance office in Austin, Texas. Activision Blizzard management responded to employees in a Dec. 10 email that ongoing work toward improving company culture would be best achieved without a union... Activision Blizzard's tumultuous battle with lawsuits, government investigations and worker protests has Wall Street analysts downgrading their rating of its stock. Unionization would further lower the company's market value, according to Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. "If they were to succeed [in unionizing], the company would have to determine whether to recognize the union or to bust it," Pachter said. "If only the hourly workers chose unionization, Activision could decide whether it is cheaper to recognize them or to export their jobs to a nonunion locale." That possibility looms large for workers in the industry. "I do fear for my job," said Aubrey Ryan, a contractor working for Blizzard. "Even if I'm fired, I have been part of a movement that is going to change the games industry. I might not benefit, but future people like me will." Some interesting quotes from two pro-union figures interviewed by the Post: "There's been a lot of groundwork that's been happening in the game industry over the last few years in terms of raising awareness about unions." — Vodeo designer Carolyn Jong "Vodeo has broken the ice on smaller studios. There are definitely folks at smaller studios that are realizing that unions are not just for triple A studios..." — a Southern California games-industry organizer

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