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A Better ABK Alliance Employees Increase Effort to Unionize - Activision Blizzard Executives Respond
10/12/2021 em 14:04
Following the fourth day of striking after a dozen employees from Raven Software were told that their
temporary contracts would not be renewed
this coming January, Activision Blizzard employee efforts to unionize have increased dramatically, with the
ABK Workers Alliance
union authorization cards
in order for employees to demonstrate their intent in forming a union. This very important step toward unionization has been met with increased activity from Activision Blizzard's executive branch, beginning with the announcement earlier this week that some 500 temporary employees would be converted to full time, and now emails from both Chief Administrative Officer
and Chief People Officer
Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao, Activision Blizzard
At Activision Blizzard, we are working hard to create a more inclusive, supportive, and rewarding environment, and thanks to your input, we are making progress.
In the past few months, we've announced that we're converting nearly 500 temporary workers to full-time employees at Activision Publishing studios, and we have increased wages for a large portion of temporary workers and added paid time off benefits. We introduced a zero-tolerance harassment policy and waived required arbitration of sexual harassment and discrimination claims. We have made significant commitments for diverse talent across the industry. We have more to do, and we believe that direct dialogue between management and employees is essential to the success of Activision Blizzard.
As you may have seen yesterday, there was a communication supported by the Communication Workers of America (CWA) that asked employees to sign and submit union authorization cards. I want to be clear about this:
The leadership of Activision Blizzard supports your right, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), to make your own decision about whether or not to join a union.
As you make this decision for your future, we ask only that you take time to consider the consequences of your signature on the binding legal document presented by you by CWA. Once you sign that document, you will have signed over to CWA the exclusive right "to represent for the purposes of collective bargaining concerning all terms and conditions of employment." That means that your ability to negotiate all your own working conditions will be turned over to CWA, just as the document says.
Achieving our workplace culture aspirations will best occur through active, transparent dialogue between leaders and employees that we can act upon quickly. That is the better path than simply signing an electronic form offered to you by CWA or awaiting the outcome of a legally-mandated and -regulated bargaining process sometime in the future.
If we fail to achieve the workplace goals we have set forth - if we fail to do the things we've committed to doing - then of course you will still always have the right to engage with, and vote for, CWA. But we are confident that we will make the progress we've previously pledged to make and create a workplace with you that we all can be proud of.
As always, we welcome outreach with concerns or ideas to help make improvements, and there are multiple avenues internally for dialogue, both direct and anonymous.
What Does it Take to Unionize?
These increased efforts represent a turning point in A Better ABK's efforts to fight for worker's rights, the severity of which is demonstrated by the c-suites response, but it is important to remember that unionization isn't quite that easy. Despite requests that Activision voluntarily recognize efforts of unionization -
. Legally, Activision cannot voluntarily recognize a union without evidence that a majority of its employees (more than 50% of Activision Blizzard's almost 10,000 workers) actually want to be unionized - something that is far from proven - as they cannot legally force employees who may actually not want to be unionized to recognize one. In a small company, this could be done with a simple show of hands, but it's much more challenging in wider organizations, and typically accomplished by the circulation of signed petitions or
to show that intent, which started happening yesterday. From here, it's a game of numbers: with 50% of employees Activision could immediately recognize unionization, otherwise it will take at least 30% of employees to
force a vote by the National Labor Relations Board
National Labor Relations Board
Not represented by a union, but want to be?
If a majority of workers wants to form a union, they can select a union in one of two ways: If at least 30% of workers sign cards or a petition saying they want a union, the NLRB will conduct an election. If a majority of those who vote choose the union, the NLRB will certify the union as your representative for collective bargaining. An election is not the only way a union can become your representative. Your employer may voluntarily recognize a union based on evidence - typically signed union-authorization cards - that a majority of employees want it to represent them. Once a union has been certified or recognized, the employer is required to bargain over your terms and conditions of employment with your union representative. Special rules apply in the construction industry.
Despite the amount of discourse on social media, this is still far from certain, as we're talking about anywhere from
3,000 to 5,000 people
all agreeing on something. Even if the employees get the requisite 50% support or 30% plus a successful vote, there are further steps to consider: from electing union leaders, to ratifying a contract, and collecting union dues. Presumably, most of this would be handled with the assistance of the Communication's Workers of America, which has already been advising and will almost certainly consolidate with whatever group that Activision employees form, but it's not exactly a quick process and will still be quite some time before we see the results of any potential unionization.
Pros and Cons of Unionizing
At its core, a labor union is a group of employees working together to negotiate with business owners over pay and working conditions, but there are several considerations to make before committing to a union. One person negotiating doesn't have the same power as a group, but it also means a lot more moving parts, and unions also play a role in politics, particularly when considering joining a larger organizer such as the
Communications Workers of America
, which represents a huge amount of workers across dozens of industries.
Detractors will point out that unions bring the power of collective bargaining rights to the table, but they also work for the collective, which isn't
in line with each individual's specific goals - while union members vote for union leaders, like most governments, they aren't always made happy by the decisions those leaders end up making. Unions also aren't free, with members required to pay dues to cover their costs, typically between 2-4% of a worker's paycheck as well as potential initiation fees, although this this can vary greatly and not all members pay dues or pay the same amount. There's also concern that those funds aren't actually used to the workers benefits, as the anti-union
Center for Union Facts
reports that top leaders of the AFL-CIO and many other unions earn six-figure salaries and use member dues on political campaigning for political candidates the workers may not necessarily support. Unions also tend to be perceived as more adversarial, pitting the union against both management and non-union workers, and typically benefit seniority in the company, which can either be good or bad depending if you're the older employee being protected or the newer one being laid off despite potentially doing better work.
On the other hand, it's near universally recognized that unions protect workers rights and increase negotiation power, resulting in a better advocacy and equity than non-unionized ones. Due to increased advocacy, union members typically earn more than their non-unionized counterparts which more than offsets the cost of any union dues. Unions are also historically responsible for establishing a wide range of worker benefits, such as hourly work limits, age limits, weekends, paid time off, and generally reducing abuse within the workplace. Unionized employees have greater job security, and frequently have greater potential for promotion, rather than getting stuck in go-nowhere jobs with limited mobility. For these reasons, many consider the tradeoffs to be
more than worthwhile
, particularly for those on the lower rungs of a company's hierarchy (such as CS and QA) who tend to need help the most.
Executive Responses and Management Responsibilities
The executive response
shared by A Better ABK organizer and now former employee Jessica Gonzalez
asking employees for their patience is a predictable one, but some employees are understandably upset about the appearance that it warns against unionization. Ironically, it may even have the opposite effect - galvanizing those who are already on the pro-union side and bringing the issue to the fore for those who were not - but we've reached a point at which actions speak louder than words on both sides, this is the chance for employees to pick a side and prove whether enough of them truly want to unionize.
There are several legalities regarding what managers can/not say or do during attempts to unionize, which need to be carefully considered and neither side will want violated.
Another email from
Chief People Officer Julie Hodge
s to Activision Blizzard managers offers management training to provide guidance during what will certainly be a tumultuous time. Although the message can be perceived in a negatively by those worried about union-busting, it's actually a very important step for both sides, as there are
several legalities regarding management behavior
during attempts to unionize, which need to be carefully considered. Even the appearance that managers are spying on or interfering with efforts to unionize can result in very serious legal repercussions from the NLRB.
Whatever executives or activists say, this is now in the hands of employees. Although the fight is far from over, this is the time for each of Activision Blizzard's employees to make their own decision whether they want to support efforts to unionize, as it very much affects all of them.
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