The push for games industry unionization expands with new initiative from major US union CWA

New initiative will "support workers' organizing efforts in the technology and game industries"

    
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The push for games industry unionization expands with new initiative from major US union CWA

Unionization pushes have become a big discussion across the games industry for the last several years. The tipping point might just have been the Screen Actors Guild strike in 2016 and 2017, when voice actors issued a dramatic strike against game companies to secure better pay and working conditions, during which, you’ll be unsurprised to learn, the group representing the corporations behaved abysmally. By 2018, game developers across the industry had formed Game Workers Unite, a group pushing industry teams to unionize and now has multiple chapters around the world. Within a year, half of developers surveyed at GDC supported the movement. Most recently, even politicians have lent their voice to the unionization push for workers in the games sector; this past summer, US Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted in praise of Game Workers Unite specifically.

All of this is preamble to the most recent development: The largest communications/media labor union in the US has now stepped into the ring. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) this week announced a formal Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, characterized as a “new initiative to support workers’ organizing efforts in the technology and game industries” and led in part by one of the founders of GWU.

“Employees at major American tech and game companies have grown increasingly active and outspoken about workplace issues, including sexual assault and harassment, ageism, unequal pay, ‘crunch time’ (i.e. long-term overtime and overworking), poor treatment of contract workers, inadequate racial and gender diversity, and lack of transparency and inclusion in decision-making around controversial contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). […] Tech and game companies’ meteoric growth in recent years has been accompanied by growing concerns around workers’ rights and workplace conditions, including the disconnect between the companies’ stated values and the societal impact of the technology. CODE-CWA will provide resources for workers who are joining together to demand change.”

Gamers will note here that CWA is in good company: A year ago, when Activision-Blizzard’s Bobby Kotick announced the company would be following up a year of record profits by slashing 800 jobs, the US’s largest labor union, AFL-CIO, penned an open letter urging game developers to unionize.

“While you’re putting in crunch time, your bosses are ringing the opening bell on Wall Street,” the group wrote. “While you’re creating some of the most groundbreaking products of our time, they’re pocketing billions. While you’re fighting through exhaustion and putting your soul into a game, Bobby Kotick and Andrew Wilson are toasting to ‘their’ success. They get rich. They get notoriety. They get to be crowned visionaries and regarded as pioneers. What do you get? Outrageous hours and inadequate paychecks. Stressful, toxic work conditions that push you to your physical and mental limits. The fear that asking for better means risking your dream job.”

The trend on this seems pretty clear.

Source: CWA

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Anton Mochalin

Sad news, we will be getting even less for our money when buying games.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

LOL

tl;dr: Unionization is a red herring. The only effective solution is going to be better worker protection laws.

Ok, from the top then. Unions can only work if they have a monopoly on the workforce. Games Development is such a shit-show because there are significantly more applicants (to live the dream!) than there are positions. Even if a studio’s entire development staff went on strike they’d have replacements hired by the end of the day. Institutional knowledge doesn’t count for bupkis kids so don’t count on that keeping you safe either!

Think the picket line will cow those filthy scabs? Unlike assembly lines, service or construction jobs where physical presence is a requirement engineering and art tasks may be performed remotely regardless if it’s across town or across the world. Feel free to stand outside the studio with a big rubber rat and yell slogans if it makes you feel better. Heck it may even help them realize that office space in CA is way too expensive.

Bernie Sanders isn’t stupid. He’s well aware that trying to unionize software developers is pissing up a rope. He couldn’t possibly have an ulterior motive to curry favor with unions in 2020 now could he? … uh, but maybe… naaaah.

Last time we had this argument I suggested folks research how the Screen Actor’s Guild got started. Guess nobody did that homework. There was a perfect storm of events that made it possible. The key one: The major studios colluded to not bid against one another for acting talent. Overnight the SAG ballooned to thousands of members including the big names which the studios pretty much had to have. Star power isn’t something a studio needs on their development staff.

Games studios might be myopic enough to try colluding with their counterparts. But I’m sure their lawyers would have a few choice words about that since several of the top tech companies learned a very expensive lesson some years ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-Tech_Employee_Antitrust_Litigation

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Utakata

Aiun Tanks-san said it best below though…

…and bingo card point #4. /le sigh

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Aiun Tanks

Do it. For all their flaws, unions are better than the alternative, which is rampant, unchecked exploitation of the divided workers.

Do it.

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styopa

Did the voice actors’ strike ACTUALLY accomplish anything?

And no, there is NO trend toward unionization in the US.comment image

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Utakata

Bingo card point #1.

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SnowflakeDruid

If unions are so good, why are people forced to join them instead of it being voluntary?

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NecroFox4

Because of the collective bargaining agreements that exist between the unions and an employer. If you want to work at location X, you must join the union that is under contract there.

It’s the EXACT same thing that happens in the DoD contracting field. If you want to work as a Sys Admin at “Super Awesome Command” at “Fort Wherever”, you need to go talk to whatever company holds the contract.

They aren’t FORCED to join a union, because they aren’t FORCED to work at that location. They must CHOOSE to join the union, and therefor, work at that location.

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styopa

No, they’re FORCED to join the union.

To suggest otherwise is to instead validate the corporate position that “nobody’s forcing you to take this job at this pay”. Is that what you mean?

In any case, I know people who worked part time at a school, they were COMPELLED to become part of the union, had union dues deducted automatically from their pay and DIDN’T GET A VOTE in the union, because they were part time.
That’s what I call super-fair!

Cognitive dissonance, much?

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NecroFox4

Words mean things. No one is FORCED to work at a job that requires the joining of a union as a condition of employment. No more than I am FORCED to work at a job that requires the slaughtering of animals as a condition of employment, such as working in a slaughterhouse.

If you were to accept a job at a slaughterhouse, which required you to kill animals, would you then claim that you are FORCED to kill animals?

If it is a condition of employment, and you CHOOSE to accept the position, you are not FORCED to do anything; it is a choice.

If someone were to impose upon you, via coercion or physical power, then you could claim to be FORCED. But it is a choice you are referring to here.

Funny, how you mention cognitive dissonance…

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Arktouros

I believe there’s a critical distinction between your slaughterhouse employee and union employee.

In the scenario with the Slaughterhouse employee, them objecting to killing animals means it would be impossible for them to do said job under any circumstances.

In the scenario with the worker who doesn’t want to join the Union they would still be capable of doing the job whether or not they are or aren’t within the Union.

Probably a more apt comparison would be a driving job requiring the driver to have auto insurance and having to pay that premium.

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Utakata

Bingo card point #2.

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Sean Barfoot

Because they lobby on your behalf for better pay and conditions. You enjoy the benefits of that, so pay your dues.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

Until you get laid off anyway because of cutbacks. Most unions outlived their usefulness at the end of the Industrial age.

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Arktouros

I mean cool and everything. I’ve heard some real horror stories out of a few coworkers who used to be in game dev and all of them seem much happier out of game dev.

However what seems to prop up these kinds of horrible practices in the first place is the near unlimited supply of new workforce as people who grew up and are passionate about gaming get into a field they think will be amazing. Even if you could find the people willing to risk their jobs to create the kind of pressure to make companies change their practices and expectations it just seems like that would just feed perfectly into the already expected cycle of developer burnout and replacement. Even then lets say these kinds of shady practices get even more widely publicized and game dev becomes known as a bad career choice you still run into the general dev concern of such jobs being outsourced to other countries (I’m sure more than a few game devs are probably on a first name basis with some professionals in Hyderabad).

I probably shouldn’t laugh or joke around, but all I can imagine is all the various alternative names coders would have for scabs.

“You’re such an On Error Resume Next!”

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Sean Barfoot

Unions are good.

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3dom

Yeah, they are really good for big business since they are effectively killing competition from small business which cannot afford the level of bonuses unions demand for workers. Unions (and higher taxes) are one of the major factors why Europe has zero to none startups compared to US – they are simply too expensive there, despite lower salaries.

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NecroFox4

Unions and “really good for big business” is an oxymoron. But OK.

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Utakata

Bingo card point #3.

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Bryan Correll

I demand to see this card!

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Utakata

There was a regular who used to do up bingo cards for us for hot topics back in the day. Not sure what happen to him. (And no, it wasn’t Mr. Schlag.) So I am just flagging oft repeated silly arguments about unions in the hope someone out there would do one up out fo them. >.<

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Sean Barfoot

Screw start ups. Real jobs for ordinary people with decent pay and conditions are far more valuable than pie in the sky bullshit about making an app for ordering curtains.

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Bruno Brito

one of the major factors why Europe has zero to none startups compared to US

Good.

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rosieposie

This isn’t even true, in fact it’s a blatant lie. Even one of the smallest EU countries, Estonia, has hundreds of tech startups, and has been described as startup paradise.

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3dom

That’s a great example you got: Baltics enjoy cheap non-unionized employees from Ukraine, Belarus, Russian Federation who agree to work for a fraction of first-world salaries just to escape from their crap holes.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

Half the devs surveyed at GDC supported the movement, which means that half did not. And I am going to bet that the half that did support it would diminish drastically if they were asked if they were willing to be fired or blackballed as a trouble maker in the industry if their employer found out.

The problem here is the same as it ever was. Conditions have to be so bad that employees are willing to sacrifice their careers to advance the labor movement. It is nice that the unions are trying to organize. It is cool we that we feel sympathy. But eventually somebody inside has to go all Norma Rae and stand up to management and get people to follow them and close down work at a big studio and force them to negotiate. Until that happens, until somebody like EA or Activision or Riot feels enough heat to cave in, this is all just wishful thinking.

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Sean Barfoot

But none of that can happen without unionising in the first place.

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Wilhelm Arcturus

Hence “But eventually…” in my statement.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

The trick isn’t to convince those in games development to unionize. The trick is to convince the line wrapping around the building begging to be a games developer to join the union. They’ll figure that out when the gnomes figure out the step between “steal underpants” and “PROFITS!”