US Senator Bernie Sanders publicly offers support for game worker unionization

    
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That dull, wooden hammering you hear in the background is the attachment of planks to platforms. With the US 2020 presidential campaign season drawing close, many American politicians are making their thoughts known on a variety of topics. One such politician — US Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders — has gone on record in support of unionization for employees in video game development.

Citing a June 11th article from Time about the various worker exploitation issues that game devs face and the earnings disparity between devs and executives, Sanders sent out a tweet yesterday in praise of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Game Workers Unite for their attempts to help developers collectively bargain.

Sanders’ comments add a new facet to the conversation surrounding the treatment of those who make the video games we enjoy, which has been a hot-button topic in the industry for the past several months. We’ve collected the most pertinent stories about the issue below so you can keep up.

source: Twitter via Gamasutra
Note for the comments: Keep it on the topic of game industry unionization specifically please. If you want to talk presidential politics, there are plenty of other places to go do that!

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DargorV .

In a perfect world Bernie would be the 2020 President

..but ‘murica is way too dumb for that. Even the regular lefties will backstab the man first chance they get because they’re just as much sellouts as the republicans.

US politics is shit, so glad I don’t live in a backward divided country.

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Fred Douglas

This comments section is amazing. Just goes to show how “our little community” has a razor-thin hobby barrier between it and the rudimentary political commentary of the day.

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starbuck1771

The unions will not work imho. Why? Because companies don’t want them. In the current industry programmers are a dime a dozen. So companies will just hire those who are not in a union. As for Bernie he is going to feel the Bern in 2020 when the DNC shafts him yet again.

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Sarah Cushaway

Maybe it’s time for the working class to practice some solidarity –such as we did at the turn of the century to get unions in the first place. Companies may not want unions, but if enough workers do and refuse to enter the industry otherwise, what companies want may no longer matter ;)

fallwind
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fallwind

“In the current industry programmers are a dime a dozen.”

No, they aren’t. I’ve been on teams looking for server programmers for over half a year because back-end coders are extremely hard to find and astronomically expensive to snipe from another studio. They are constantly getting recruiters contacting them and new opportunities left and right.

Client programmers are more common, but still extremely in demand.

Sure, you can get some, wet behind the ears, fresh out of university, rookie for dirt cheap, but they can’t do the job without experienced people at the helm, and those are the ones that are hard to find.

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Sarah Cushaway

There’s a huge, huge connection with the shrinking middle class and strong labor unions losing power over the last few decades. https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikecollins/2015/03/19/the-decline-of-unions-is-a-middle-class-problem/#6ca0a4807f2d

So, Sanders is right– game devs/workers need unions. As do most industries.

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Jack Pipsam

Video Game Developers need to Unionise all over the world, sooner rather than later. Enough is enough of the abuse.
Game Publishers are nobodies friend, it has been the vital role of Unions the world over to ensure rights and protections for workers. Yes sometimes things can go wrong this, that or the other. But I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Unions have been an overall great thing for the world. All you need to do is compare places and industries with strong head-fast Unions, verses places that don’t.
I think it’s been an important step of recent that all these stories have been exposed and blown open.
Get it out there, NDAs be damned.

PS. This reminds me that I need to tune back into Planet America again, that fed me a lot of information about the USA in terms of their politicians/elections.

fallwind
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fallwind

we are unionised in most of Europe. It’s the main reason we are paid way better than our American/Canadian counterparts, and why we get 4+ weeks vacation a year.

r1plakish
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r1plakish

The reason that “crunch” is even a thing is due to the exception in Federal labor laws that allows companies to classify IT workers as exempt (salary). We don’t need a union to address “crunch” – the government could just drop the exception and it would disappear because companies would not want to incur the cost of overtime pay. Of course the consequences of this would either be increased prices (i.e $60 games becoming $100) because companies would have to hire more people to make up for the lost man hours or a bunch of unemployed developers after their jobs are outsourced to a country without decent labor laws.

The bottom line is that unionization provides no solutions to this problem and Bernie Sanders knows it. This is all just pandering before the Primaries.

fallwind
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fallwind

Game development is an extremely highly skilled profession. While you can move a studio to somewhere else in the world, it’s just as easy for your employees to pack up and move somewhere else as well. I moved to Europe because of the poor treatment I was getting in Canada, here I get more pay, no crunch, and twice the vacation days.

So even though a studio can move somewhere with weaker laws, they still need to attract developers to work there, that will cost them more in salary.

PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

Everyone should be unionized. People can say that we don’t need unions because we have laws to protect folks, but there’s so much loopholes and corruption that it’s near useless. Not only that, but the power dynamics between workers and businesses/corporations have become so lopsided that most businesses/corporations can dictate the rules most of the time.

If I have ONE concern about unions is that unions in America in PRACTICE are either dying or insanely powerful, there’s almost no middle ground. For weak or dying unions, just look anywhere in America. For insanely powerful unions… just look at any big cities, ESPECIALLY the NYC area.

Seriously, $500k salary just to wash trucks?

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starbuck1771

Unions are just as corrupt. Have you paid your dues lately? 😈

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Anstalt

First, as a general rule of thumb, I’m against unions. They had a necessary and very valid purpose throughout the industrial revolution and most of the 20th century, but I feel like they’re redundant these days. There are enough laws around to protect pretty much all workers, combined with far more opportunity and choice for workers. All helped by much better mobility – its much easier now to get a job in another city and move that it was 100 years ago.

Second, like others have pointed out, there is a massive pool of young talent desperate to enter the industry. So, even if there is a union, employers can find ways around them and the young talent will probably be quite happy to put in the hours.

Third, I often wonder how much of this is simply due to US labour laws. I’ve only worked for one gaming company (Codemasters in UK) but they didn’t have crunch. I’m fairly certain that our labour laws make a lot of crunch illegal and whilst you may get asked to work overtime, we could all say no and there’d be no consequences. When I was speaking with some of the more senior people who’d been there a while, they also stressed that crunch used to exist but they’d eventually figured out it didn’t actually help at all – the employees were stressed and made more mistakes, turnover of staff was too high and the games didn’t make more money just because they released “on time”. They’d also identified that crunch was mostly a result of poor project planning and management, so as a company they put a lot of effort into improving that.

In the UK, we also seem to value our free time much more highly than in the US. We have a lot more annual leave than the average American employee and we tend to get quite angry when we have to work too much!

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Utakata

…this is kinda of one of those arguments that ends up being for unions, lol. o.O

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Dug From The Earth

So for all those in the game dev industry that have been getting screwed over for the last many years, think you could list some of those laws that are there to protect them?

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Dragon Whimsy

Wages haven’t gone up since the 70’s in the U.S. when you take inflation into account. This despite the fact that productivity is at an all time high. Saying unions are redundant these days is just ignorant. You’ve been programmed to say that by news media that is owned by corporations and whose commercials are payed for by corporations.

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Jack Pipsam

Unions keep the balance in check against Big Business.
Australia has strong worker protection laws as well (especially in comparison to say the US), but that doesn’t mean that the current or next Government of the day wouldn’t try to weaken or undermine those laws to please Big Business.
Unions can act as a strong collective voice which has a chance of being heard against any weakened or worse laws when otherwise ignored.

It’s no accident that our main Left-leaning party (Labor) is rooted strongly in Union history. Sure it can be to their determent and PR negativity at times (like right now actually, big Union spat going on with a douche, won’t go into it), but it has been important to the nation that Labor has been there to progress Australia into the nation we are today, like Universal Health Care etc.

Likewise it can be important that Big Business is there to balance against Unions if things go a bit wonky.
It’s personally why I tend to see the benefit of Centrism.

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starbuck1771

Speaking of Unions and negativity. I think they are still searching for Jimmy Hoffa.

fallwind
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fallwind

“there is a massive pool of young talent desperate to enter the industry”

yup, and for the most junior level positions, you are absolutely right. But if you are looking for intermediate level or above, your pool of candidates shrinks astronomically.

When looking for a back-end programmer, with >5 years experience, there might be a dozen or more companies all trying for the same candidate. >10 years and I can guarantee they are getting a new recruiter talking to them every month to try and snipe them away to a new company.

Junior developers are easy to find, but are the closest we have to “grunt labor”. Any and all important choices are made by experienced developers who are extremely rare (partially because so many people leave the industry because of the poor treatment)

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Anton Mochalin

Honestly I would like US game industry workers to unionize so that Korean and Chinese companies become more competitive.

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Bryan Correll

What makes this newsworthy is not that he’s in favor of such a union (that could have been taken as a given,) but that he was actually aware of the issue*.

*Or whoever handles his twitter account was.

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starbuck1771

Well Bernie is a little nuts. So take anything he endorses with a grain of salt. Just like there is no way free college for everyone will work. The money has to come from somewhere.

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Bruno Brito

To be fair, the way Student Debt is arranged in the US, you guys could pretty much pay for free college for everyone and not even touch 10% of it.