In the past two years, video games and technology companies have experienced a wave of strikes, petitions, and other workplace actions.
Despite this surge in union activism, employees of large video game studios and only a handful of technology offices have officially voted to form or join a union.
A new campaign launched on Tuesday by one of the country’s largest unions and led by one of the major video game industry activists in Southern California is set to change this.
The Campaign for Organizing Digital Employees is a new project by Communications Workers of America that is specifically geared towards organizing video games and technology companies.
It was born out of talks between CWA and Game Workers Unite, a grassroots organization that was founded in 2018 to drive union building in the $ 43 billion video game industry, and talks with organizers of the largest technology industry. ,
In addition to the new initiative, the GWU section in Toronto has signed an official partnership agreement with CWA to work in the organization in the region. (CWA is also NewsGuild’s mother organization, which represents workers in the Los Angeles Times and most of the country’s major newspapers.)
“We have seen the incredible organization of workers in the industry,” said Tom Smith, CWA’s chief organizer. “And the workers themselves contacted us when they were doing incredible self-organization and said,” Can we do that in collaboration with the CWA? “
The union declined to say how much money it had spent on the new effort, but put two organizers on the payroll to provide impetus with the support of dozens of CWA employees across the country.
One of the new hires, Wes McEnany, comes from a more traditional career in organizing union work in the Boston region and the $ 15 billion minimum wage campaign. CWA also hired Emma Kinema, the co-founder of Game Workers Unite. and organized the chapters of the Los Angeles and Orange County group.
Dedicated employees and national ambitions set the CODE project apart from other efforts to organize technicians, such as the Pittsburgh Association, which is supported by United Steelworkers. of Tech Professionals who successfully unionized Google’s contractors in September.
Working conditions in the video game industry have brought organization to the fore in recent years. At a video game developer conference in 2019, the industry practices that employees work 100 hours a week for months to complete a game on time by the set delivery date, often without additional payment, a practice known as “contraction”. Discussions between workers were triggered, as were layoffs when companies hire employees and leave their jobs to accommodate cyclical production plans.
In the technology industry in general, workplace measures have gone beyond concerns about general issues such as payment and compensation for ethical and cultural issues. Google’s worldwide strikes and the subsequent strike at the Riot Games game studio in Los Angeles resulted from employees’ demands to end the practice of forcing workers into private arbitration instead of letting them sue for allegations of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination.
Other measures, such as the withdrawal of online furniture supplier Wayfair and a series of petitions from Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce employees, have rejected companies’ decision to work with the Immigration Service and Customs or the Department of Defense. Activision Blizzard, based in Irvine, faced internal and external protests in late 2019 after punishing a professional player who made statements in support of democracy-friendly protests in Hong Kong.
The organizers of the new efforts see the impetus for better working conditions and better business ethics in one and the same thing.
In December, the CWA filed charges against Google on behalf of five Google employees with the National Labor Relations Board, who they said were released by their organization in the technology giant.
The new project shows a path that is far from organizing video game workers along the lines of the Hollywood union. SAG-AFTRA has been representing the voice of video games for years and in 2017 called for a strike for payment and license structures. However, the CWA largely follows the model of industrial unions that organize entire companies at once, rather than dividing workers who perform different tasks into specialized unions.
Smith, on the other hand, said that CWA could house the craft organization if video games or technicians wanted it, and stressed that the workers will ultimately decide how to organize themselves. Kinema saw the decision to join the CWA in a tougher form.