Workers across the United States, including in multi-national corporations like Starbucks and Amazon, as well as in the video game industry, are joining trade unions for the first time in their tens of thousands.
A group of Activision Blizzard workers has voted in favour of unionising at a studio that works on the popular ‘Call of Duty’ franchise, the second victory in a push to organise workers in the fight for better wages and conditions.
Employees in the quality assurance department at Raven Software in Middleton, Wisconsin, voted 19-3 for joining the Communications Workers of America (CWA), according to a tally by US National Labour Relation Board (NLRB) officials on Monday.
The union must still bargain and reach a deal on a contract with Activision.
The vote will not have to be re-certified if Microsoft succeeds in its plan to acquire Activision, according to the CWA.
Activision said in a statement following the vote: ‘We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union.
‘We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees.’
Wisconsin is a right-to-work state, meaning any worker can choose not to be a union member which makes the decision even more significant.
Employees are speaking up at Activision following multiple accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
They have walked out in protest of the company response to the allegations and sackings of quality assurance testers.
Employees have circulated a petition calling for the removal of Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick.
In the broader market, workers are also becoming more vocal and active about better pay and working conditions.
John Logan, a professor of labour and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said: ‘Employees in this sector tend to be overworked and underpaid and treated as disposable, which probably goes against the public image that people have of tech workers.’
He added that: ‘Many feel the only way to gain respect is by unionising.’
Logan said: ‘There’s certainly a huge amount of energy and optimism, particularly amongst young workers at the moment.’
In Wisconsin, the organisers called for a healthier work environment with realistic development timelines, appropriate compensation and career development opportunities in an industry where quality assurance is undervalued, according to the organisers’ official Twitter account.
The number of ballots received was 24 of 28 eligible voters. There were two challenged ballots, which is not enough to change the outcome of the vote.
CWA Communications Director Beth Allen said in a statement before the vote: ‘Other workers in the video game industry will be excited and inspired by the success of the Raven Software workers in forming their union.
‘We urge Activision to respect their decision and commit to bargaining a fair contract.’
In December, Vodeo became the first video game studio in North America with workers to secure union representation.
Employees at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York, recently voted to unionise and workers at an Apple store in Atlanta filed a petition for a union election.
Workers at more than 58 US Starbucks cafes have elected to join Workers United, while at least four stores voted against the union, out of more than roughly 262 that have sought to hold elections since last August.
Meanwhile, IAM Local 2379 (District 160) members at Intalco Works, a Washington State aluminum manufacturing plant, have overwhelmingly ratified a five-year collective bargaining agreement with Blue Wolf Capital Partners, one of the last steps toward reopening and modernising the facility and restoring hundreds of jobs in Whatcom County.
The final remaining hurdle for IAM Local 2379 members in Ferndale, Wash., is the absence of a power agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA).
The BPA previously provided electricity for Intalco Works for 50 years.
A reopened and modernised aluminum manufacturing plant would be one of only two green aluminum smelters in the United States.
The reopening of this plant would also reduce aluminum imports from Russia, China, and the Middle East.
The agreement builds upon the previous collective bargaining agreement with improvements to wages and benefits, quarterly bonuses, and job protections.
IAM Western Territory General Vice President Gary R. Allen said: ‘Our members at IAM Local 2379 have endured so many ups and downs over restarting the aluminum plant and securing an agreement with the Bonneville Power Authority.
‘Our members need elected officials in the state of Washington and Washington, DC to help bring relief for hundreds of working families in Whatcom County.
The members earned this contract that will serve a model in the aluminum manufacturing industry.’
Highlights of the agreements include:
- Improvements in wages, performance bonus plan, paid sick leave, paid vacation, overtime distribution, and new employee starting wages.
- Quarterly retention bonuses
- Seniority will be honoured for previous employees, meaning they don’t have to start over with wages, vacation, etc.
- Guaranteed equity in the new company; if there is a sale in the future, employees and retirees will get a payout.
- Generous 401(k) contribution and match.
IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr said: ‘The IAM has committed our full resources to help restore the hundreds of strategic manufacturing jobs at Intalco Works.
‘We need our allies to do everything possible to reopen the facility.’
The Ferndale City Council recently passed a resolution calling on BPA to restore power to the Intalco Works aluminum manufacturing plant.
A 2019 economic report developed by Western Washington University highlighted the economic multiplier of creating manufacturing jobs in the region.
The IAM will continue working with the State of Washington, former members of management, and Blue Wolf Capital Partners to reopen and modernise the Intalco Works.
Elsewhere Amazon has been accused of firing a worker at its North Randall fulfillment centre who was engaged in unionising the facility.
The National Labour Relations Board is investigating the charge.
According to documents from the Labour Board, someone filed an unfair labour practice charge against Amazon on May 16th.
However, the person’s name was redacted from the public record and no affiliation was listed for a specific union the person may have been working with.
According to the charge, Amazon was aware of unionisation efforts the employee was part of at the facility.
The employee was then fired for a security infraction.
The employee was also not allowed to use Amazon’s in-house appeal process, according to the filing.
The complaint filed with the NLRB said the security infraction – or ‘alleged incident’ – did not happen, and that the employee was actually fired because of their support for the union, and to further discourage unionisation at the facility.
The NLRB has assigned an investigator to the charge, and Amazon has assigned its lawyers to the investigation as well, according to documents obtained through a records request.
Details about the employee being fired, or the unionisation efforts at the North Randall facility, are sparse.
An NLRB spokesperson explained that any individual can file a charge against an employer, as long as they have knowledge of the situation. So it could be the employee who got fired, a co-worker who said it happened, or someone else. It does not appear that a union organisation filed the charge.
The next step in the process is an investigation, which could lead to a variety of steps, according to the NLRB’s website. For example, the Labour Board has recently filed in federal court, trying to get Starbucks to rehire seven workers fired while trying to unionise.
But while details are lacking, the charge does point to one thing. Unionisation is at least being discussed at North Randall’s Amazon facility.
Dan O’Malley, leader of the North Shore AFL-CIO, said Amazon has tried to stop unions in the past.
O’Malley said: ‘Although we are still learning the details of this particular incident in North Randall, Amazon’s illegal and merciless union busting tactics are well documented.’
O’Malley added that a number of labour unions that have tried to organise Amazon’s elsewhere have a presence in Northeast Ohio. He said he wasn’t sure who was organising in North Randall.
The Amazon Labour Union organised an Amazon facility in Staten Island, New York.
It was the first Amazon warehouse to successfully do so. The ALU isn’t connected to a larger, national union.
Other efforts, like one in Bessemer, Alabama, have failed because of pressure put on the workers by Amazon not to join a union.
Chris Smalls, leader of the Amazon Labour Union, will visit Cleveland June 8th.
O’Malley said the entire labour movement stands ready to fight alongside the unionising Amazon workers.