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30+ workers at Middleton-based video game developer are unionizing

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Raven Software

Earlier this week, technology giant Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard, parent company of Middleton-based video game developer Raven Software. On Friday, a group of Raven Software workers decided to unionize.  

More than 30 workers at Raven Software — a Middleton-based video game developer whose parent company Activision Blizzard was just bought by Microsoft for $68.7 billion — have formed a union.

The workers are calling on Activision Blizzard’s management to recognize the union, called the Game Workers Alliance Union with the Communications Workers of America. The group was created Friday, according to the Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

Activision Blizzard said in a statement Saturday that it is “carefully reviewing the request.” Activision notes that the group is about three dozen of its nearly 10,000 employees.

“While we believe that a direct relationship between the company and its team members delivers the strongest workforce opportunities, we deeply respect the rights of all employees under the law to make their own decisions about whether or not to join a union,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said.

Microsoft Corp is buying "Call of Duty" maker Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in the biggest gaming industry deal in history as global technology giants stake their claims to a virtual future. This report produced by Tamara Lindstrom.

Launched in 1990, Raven Software creates several video games under Activision Blizzard, including the profitable Call of Duty franchise. The workers who unionized said they mainly work on Call of Duty, according to the AFL-CIO. Raven Software has a few hundred employees, so the union is a fraction, but still a large chunk, of the company’s overall staff.

Activision has had complaints about workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, and Raven Software workers staged an online walkout in early December over unexpected layoffs.

AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale said in a statement Friday that her union is standing “in solidarity” with the Raven Software workers.

“Today marks a historic step in the movement to create positive change and build a better gaming industry for the workers who make video games,” Bloomingdale said. “Quality assurance workers at Raven are joining together for a seat at the table.”

Activision said it is already “focused on listening closely to our employees.”

Activision disclosed in 2021 that it was being probed by the Securities and Exchange Commission over complaints of workplace discrimination, and settled claims in September brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Activision reached a deal with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to settle the claims after a three-year investigation. The agency said Activision failed to take effective action following employee complaints about sexual harassment, as well as retaliation and discrimination against pregnant staff members.

Meanwhile, Raven Software has been facing its own problems.

Hundreds of Raven Software workers refused to work in early December because of news that 12 contractors on the quality assurance team were being laid off. The contractors test videos games for technical glitches. Their contracts expire Jan. 28.

The ABK Worker’s Alliance, a group of Activision employees, said Tuesday that the online walkouts are still ongoing because leadership has still not responded to a request to negotiate.

Bloomingdale said “giving gaming workers a real voice with the power of collective bargaining” is the best way to solve these ongoing problems.

Activision said it has provided improved pay, benefits and professional opportunities to its employees, including those at Raven Software. The company has extended paid time off and expanded access to medical benefits.

For Raven’s quality assurance team specifically, Activision has raised the minimum compensation by 41% and transitioned more than 60% of the temporary staff into full-time workers, Activision said.

Activision Blizzard acquired Raven Software in 1997 for $12 million.

Once the deal with Microsoft closes in 2023, Activision will have been part of what “could be one of the largest tech acquisitions in history,” assuming the purchase survives scrutiny from U.S. and European regulators, according to the Associated Press.

That would make Microsoft, the maker of the Xbox gaming system, one of the world’s largest video game companies.

State Journal reporter Emilie Heidemann contributed to this report.

Emilie Heidemann picks her 5 favorite 2021 stories

One of the first stories I wrote this year for the Wisconsin State Journal wasn't published last January, but instead at the beginning of September — when I officially took my post as business reporter.

It was about a biotech startup that won the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce's Pressure Chamber contest for the novel ways it was looking to prevent cancer — and a coronavirus infection. The week I wrote that piece was when I discovered the treasure trove of story ideas that made up Madison's business community.

For example, the pandemic has spotlighted how partnerships are have seemed to be a favorable strategy for organizations looking to solve complex issues.

I covered that in an article regarding the State Street pop-up shops, or Culture Collectives. Several organizations came together to fill two vacant storefronts in the Downtown corridor, and simultaneously help minority business owners get their venture off the ground.

More ideas were spawned as I saw how Madison's businesses continue to navigate hiring challenges, supply chain shortages and other trials.

But through all that, there's been an apparent optimism for the future. 

That's showcased in how Fitchburg biotech giant Promega has conceptualized a way to detect coronavirus particles in wastewater, as well as how Madison biofuel company Virent aided in United Airlines piloting an aircraft using renewable jet fuel for the first time.

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