Posts with «labor issues» label

'Call of Duty Warzone' quality assurance workers vote to unionize

Quality assurance workers at Activision Blizzard studio Raven Software have voted to unionize, becoming the first such group to do so at a major gaming publisher in North America. The National Labor Relations board counted the ballots on Monday — 19 workers voted in favor of the union and three voted against. Two ballots were challenged, though they weren't sufficient enough to affect the result. There were 28 eligible voters and no void ballots.

In December, 60 workers (including contractors and full-time employees) at the Call of Duty support studio went on strike after it laid off 12 QA testers. They demanded that the company hire those workers back. The strike ended the following month, but not before the QA workers announced plans to unionize with the Communication Workers of America (CWA). Once they were back at work, Raven split them up among various departments, in an apparent attempt to make their unionization efforts more difficult.

The workers asked Activision Blizzard to voluntarily recognize their union, which they called the Game Workers Alliance. However, the company declined to do so. Last month, the National Labor Relations Board gave the workers the go-ahead to hold a union election.

Activision Blizzard has been accused of union busting. Last July, it hired the law firm WilmerHale, which has reportedly engaged in efforts to stamp out union drives at Amazon and other companies, to review its human resources policies. It also shared anti-union messaging in company Slack channels.

In April, Activision Blizzard said it was hiring 1,100 QA workers on a full-time basis, increasing their pay in many cases and providing benefits. However, it claimed the Raven QA workers were not eligible “due to legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act.”

Earlier on Monday, the NRLB determined that Activision Blizzard violated the National Labor Relations Act. It claimed the company threatened employees who sought to organize and imposed an 'overbroad social media policy.'

Activision Blizzard is being bought by Microsoft for $68.7 billion, pending regulatory approval. Microsoft has said it "will not stand in the way if Activision Blizzard recognizes a union." The company told Axios in March that it “respects Activision Blizzard employees’ right to choose whether to be represented by a labor organization and we will honor those decisions.”

NLRB accuses Activision Blizzard of violating labor law by threatening employees

A regional director for the National Labor Relations Board has determined there's "merit to the allegations" that Activision Blizzard violated the National Labor Relations Act. It says there are indications the company and its subsidiaries Blizzard Entertainment and Activision Publishing maintained an "overbroad social media policy" and that Blizzard threatened employees who were exercising their right to organize. The findings were first reported by Bloomberg and confirmed to Engadget.

“These allegations are false. Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation, and our social media policy expressly incorporates employees’ NLRA rights," an Activision Blizzard spokesperson told Engadget in a statement. "Our social media policy explicitly says that it ‘does not restrict employees from engaging in the communication of information protected by law, including for example, rights of employees in the United States protected by the National Labor Relations Act.’”

If the company does not settle the case, the NLRB's Los Angeles office will file a complaint. That will lead to a hearing in front of an NLRB Administrative Law Judge (unless a settlement is reached in the meantime).

While the agency can't impose punitive measures against a defendant, it can require them to reverse punishments or policies; reinstate fired workers and provide backpay; or post notices containing promises not to break the law. An NLRB regional director can petition a district court for a temporary injunction if workers' rights have been violated. The agency can also file cases in federal court.

The allegations were made in September by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). It accused Activision Blizzard in an Unfair Labor Practice filing of telling employees they can't discuss wages, hours or working conditions; enforcing an "an overly broad social media policy" against workers who "engaged in protected concerted activity" (i.e. their right to organize or discuss unionization); and threatening or suveilling such employees.

The news comes on the same day that votes will be counted in a Raven Software union election. Quality assurance workers at the Activision Blizzard studio, who are organizing with the CWA as the Game Workers Alliance, got the go-ahead from the NLRB to hold a vote. If they're successful, the group of 21 or so workers will form the first union at a AAA game publisher in North America, despite the company's reported attempts to stymie their efforts.

Activision Blizzard's labor practices came under intense scrutiny last July when California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing accused it in a lawsuit of fostering a "frat boy" culture where sexual harassment and discrimination were present. Other suits have been filed against the company since, including a wrongful death case.

In the wake of the initial suit, Activision Blizzard workers formed an employee advocacy group called A Better ABK. They used social media to organize and share their concerns and demands publicly.

The company is the subject of a proposed $68.7 billion takeover by Microsoft. Its shareholders voted in favor of the deal last month, but regulatory approval is still required.

Update 5/23 3:10PM ET: Added Activision Blizzard's statement.

A second Apple Store union election will take place next month

Employees at an Apple Store in Towson, Maryland have set a date for their union election. Workers at the Towson Town Center location will vote in person over four days, starting on June 15th.

The organizers call themselves Coalition of Organized Retail Employees (AppleCore). They're aiming to unionize with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the group said "a solid majority" of staff supports the union drive. They said they are organizing "because of a deep love of our role as workers within the company and out of care for the company itself." They want "access to rights that we do not currently have" and for Apple to apply the same neutrality agreements it has with suppliers to workers, "so that as employees we can obtain our rights to information and collective bargaining that the law affords us through unionization."

They will be the second group of Apple Store workers to stage a union election. Those at the Cumberland Mall location in Atlanta will vote in early June on whether to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

Employees at Apple Stores other than the Towson and Atlanta locations are conducting union drives as well. Workers at the Grand Central Terminal store in New York City have been collecting signatures for a union vote.

While Apple has agreed to the elections in Maryland and Georgia, the company is reportedly fighting unionization efforts. It's said to have hired the same anti-union law firm as Starbucks. The company has also reportedly used anti-union talking points in pre-shift meetings at some locations. This week, workers at two stores accused Apple of union busting in Unfair Labor Practice filings.

Apple Store workers at the World Trade Center accuse the company of union busting

The Communications Workers of America has filed a second Unfair Labor Practice charge against Apple this week. This time, the labor union is accusing the tech giant of violating multiple federal labor laws at its flagship World Trade Center store. The complaint alleges that Apple interrogated workers at the WTC store regarding their "protected concerted activities." Apple also allegedly monitored those activities, or at least made employees believe that they were being monitored. Based on the group's filing, those incidents happened on or about May 3rd. 

By May 15th, the group said Apple "unlawfully implemented" a rule at the store that prohibits employees from posting union flyers in work areas during their breaks. Further, it's accusing the tech giant of conducting "captive-audience" speeches designed to discourage them from unionizing. 

Earlier this year, Apple Store workers across the US started planning to unionize in an effort to get the company to increase their pay, which they claim isn't keeping up with the cost of living. Apple reportedly hired anti-union law firm Littler Mendelson, which counts Starbucks and McDonald's as clients, in response. According to a Motherboard report, the company also recently started arming its Store managers with anti-union talking points. They were apparently instructed to tell employees that they could lose career opportunities, as well as personal time off and work flexibility, if they join a union. 

The Communications Workers of America also filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint against Apple on behalf of workers at the Cumberland Mall store on May 17th. In it, the group accused the company of holding mandatory captive audience meetings regarding the upcoming union election for the Atlanta location that's scheduled to take place in early June. 

Tim Dubnau, CWA's Deputy Organizing Director, said:

"Apple retail workers across the country are demanding a voice on the job and a seat at the table. Unfortunately, and in contradiction to its stated values, Apple has responded like a typical American corporation with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate and coerce workers. The best thing Apple can do is allow workers to choose for themselves whether or not they want a union. When we learn of situations where Apple is violating labor law, we intend to hold the company accountable and help the workers defend their rights under the law."

Apple Store employees accuse company of union busting

Apple Store employees who are organizing in Atlanta have accused the company of union busting and violating the National Labor Relations Act. The Communications Workers of America submitted an Unfair Labor Practice filing on behalf of workers at the Cumberland Mall store, who say Apple has conducted captive audience meetings in an attempt to fight their union drive.

For decades, companies have been allowed to conduct captive audience meetings until 24 hours before a union election begins. Employers typically use these mandatory meetings to deliver anti-union messaging.

However, as The Verge notes, National Labor Relations Board general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo claimed in a memo last month that such meetings are in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. "Forcing employees to listen to such employer speech under threat of discipline — directly leveraging the employees’ dependence on their jobs — plainly chills employees’ protected right to refrain from listening to this speech," Abruzzo wrote.

The Cumberland Mall Apple Store workers filed for a union election with the NLRB last month. The election is set for early June. The workers said that while they "love this company," they are fighting for better pay and benefits, among other things.

Union drives are in progress at other Apple Store locations. Earlier this month, it was reported that Apple gave retail store managers anti-union talking points to use in daily "download" meetings that take place before shifts.

Engadget has contacted Apple and the CWA for comment.

Activision Blizzard reportedly sent out anti-union message ahead of voting deadline

The management at Raven Software, the Activision Blizzard subsidiary that develops Call of Duty games, has reportedly been trying to convince its employees to vote against unionization. According to The Washington Post, the Raven management has been sending out messages and holding town hall meetings ahead of the election deadline on May 20th. 

During a meeting held on April 26th, company leadership suggested that unionization might not only impede game development, but also affect promotions and benefits. After that meeting, The Post says management sent employees an email with a message that's more direct to the point: "Please vote no." The Raven employees the publication talked to said the company's efforts were ineffective, though, and that they still voted yes for unionization. 

This saga began late last year when Raven suddenly laid off around a third of the group's QA testers after months of promising better compensation. Activision Blizzard workers staged a weeks-long strike in support of the QA employees, and unionization efforts started at the same time. Since then, Activision has been trying to dissuade workers from forming a union. 

Activision VP of QA Chris Arends reportedly told team members in a Slack meeting that a "union doesn't do anything to help us produce world-class games, and the bargaining process is not typically quick, often reduces flexibility, and can be adversarial and lead to negative publicity." The National Labor Relations Board granted the quality assurance testers' permission to hold a union vote in April, though, and workers have been sending in their ballots by mail over the past month. We'll soon find out if Activision's alleged union-busting efforts are effective soon enough: The NLRB will be counting the ballots via video conference on May 23rd.

Amazon fired two workers who helped organize its first union

Weeks after its workers won a union election for the first time, Amazon fired two of the employees who were involved in organization efforts. It's the first time Amazon has forced out workers involved in the union drive since the election win on April 1, according to Motherboard, though it's not whether the company took these actions in retaliation.

Mat Cusick, a warehouse worker and communications lead for the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), was on COVID-19 leave to care for a loved one when he received notice of his firing on May 3rd, he told the outlet. The reason Amazon gave was that it let go Cusick for “voluntary resignation due to job abandonment.”

Fellow organizer Tristan Dutchin said he was fired four days later for failing to meet productivity targets. "I believe it was retaliatory," Dutchin, who has been a vocal union advocate in the press, told Motherboard.

Amazon has fired workers on both sides of labor organizing drives at JFK8. In March 2020, the company terminated the employment of Chris Smalls, who led a protest over Amazon's alleged failure to protect workers from COVID-19. Smalls is now the president of ALU. In April, the company was ordered to reinstate a JFK8 worker who it fired after a protest two years earlier.

Last week, Amazon let go six senior managers who were said to have been involved in the company's anti-union efforts at JFK8. Amazon said it pushed them out as part of “management changes." Some believed they were fired as a result of the union's election win.

Amazon has challenged the election result in court. It has yet to recognize the ALU. Engadget has contacted Amazon for comment.

Amazon fires senior managers from unionized Staten Island warehouse

Amazon fired a number of senior managers from its JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island on Thursday, only a month after workers voted to unionize. The New York Times reported that the company axed more than half a dozen senior-level workers on Thursday, many of who were involved in union organizing. A number of anonymous employees told the NYT that they believed the firings were retaliatory. JFK8 is the first and currently the only unionized Amazon warehouse in the US.

In a statement to Engadget, Amazon said the workers were fired as a result of “management changes.” “Part of our culture at Amazon is to continually improve, and we believe it’s important to take time to review whether or not we’re doing the best we could be for our team. Over the last several weeks, we’ve spent time evaluating aspects of the operations and leadership at JFK8 and, as a result, have made some management changes.”

Other Amazon workers have recently gotten the pink slip, allegedly due to their union involvement. Just a couple of weeks ago, four recently terminated Amazon employees filed charges with the NLRB, alleging that they were being punished for supporting a union. Last month the NLRB ordered Amazon to reinstate Gerald Bryson, a worker at the JFK8 facility who was fired due to what Amazon alleged was his violation of a company language policy. But the NLRB’s judge was not convinced by this argument, and accused Amazon of performing a “skewed investigation” of Bryson and retaliating against him for his union work.

Just yesterday, Amazon Labor Union president Chris Smalls testified before the Senate Budget Committee and met with President Joe Biden. The Biden administration has expressed reserved support for unionization efforts by Amazon, Starbucks and other workers.

In his testimony before the Senate, Smalls argued that the federal government should avoid awarding Amazon contracts due to its labor practices. “We cannot allow Amazon or any other employer to receive taxpayer money if they engage in illegal union-busting behavior and deny workers’ rights,” said Smalls.

Apple store near Baltimore becomes third to start union bid

Employees at an Apple store in Towson, Maryland sent a letter to CEO Tim Cook today informing him of their bid to unionize, reportedThe Washington Post. The group, which has deemed itself the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, or AppleCore for short, represents the third Apple retail outfit reported to be in the the process of unionizing. One Apple store in Atlanta is scheduled to hold a union vote in June, and another location in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal is collecting signatures. Earlier this year The Post reported that a number of other Apple stores are quietly exploring a potential union campaign, but have yet to make their efforts public.

“As our store approaches its 20th year anniversary we think about the history of this company and how we have always been different; because we have always thought differently. Today we are asking you to do the same and to pledge not to use your resources to engage in an anti-union campaign to dissuade us,” AppleCore’s members wrote in the letter. Last month, The Vergereported that Apple contracted the major anti-union law firm, Littler Mendelson, which union organizers saw as a likely attempt to nip union efforts in the bud.

The Towson group claims to have the support of around 65 percent of eligible workers, giving them a supermajority of the store’s employees. A workplace only needs signatures from thirty percent of its employees to hold an NLRB union election, but a majority of workers must support unionization in order for a campaign to be successful. As with the other Apple stores which have gone public with their intentions to unionize, Towson workers cited a lack of flexibility in scheduling, concerns around covid safety as well as stagnating pay. Lagging pay seems particularly rankling, as Apple has posted huge gains over the pandemic, even while the economy at large slumps towards a potential recession.

In a statement to The Post, an Apple spokesperson responded to the letter. “We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple. We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full-time and part-time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits.”

The Towson store plans to file paperwork later this month with the National Labor Relations Board. Employees at this specific store, located in the Towson Mall, are coordinating with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, a labor union that mostly represents the aerospace and defense industry.

Hitting the Books: Dodge, Detroit and the Revolutionary Union Movement of 1968

After decades on the decline intro, America's labor movement is undergoing a massive renaissance with Starbucks, Amazon and Apple Store employees leading the way. Though the tech sector has only just begun basking in the newfound glow of collective bargaining rights, the automotive industry has a long been a hotbed for unionization. But the movement is not at all monolithic. In the excerpt below from her new book, Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor, journalist Kim Kelly recalls the summer of 1968 that saw the emergence of a new, more vocal UAW faction, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, coincide with a flurry of wildcat strikes in Big Three plants across the Rust Belt.

Simon and Schuster

Excerpted from Fight Like Hell, published by One Signal/Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2022 by Kim Kelly.


As of 2021, the U.S. construction industry is still booming and the building trades are heavily unionized, but not all of the nation’s builders have been so lucky. The country’s manufacturing sector has declined severely since its post–World War II high point, and so has its union density. The auto industry’s shuttered factories and former jobs shipped to countries with lower wages and weaker unions have become a symbol of the waning American empire. But things weren’t always this dire. Unions once fought tooth and nail to establish a foothold in the country’s automobile plants, factories, and steel mills. When those workers were able to harness the power of collective bargaining, wages went up and working conditions improved. The American Dream, or at least, a stable middle class existence, became an achievable goal for workers without college degrees or privileged backgrounds. Many more became financially secure enough to actually purchase the products they made, boosting the economy as well as their sense of pride in their work. Those jobs were still difficult and demanding and carried physical risks, but those workers—or at least, some of those workers—could count on the union to have their back when injustice or calamity befell them.

In Detroit, those toiling on the assembly lines of the Big Three automakers—Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors—could turn to the United Auto Workers (UAW), then hailed as perhaps the most progressive “major” union in the country as it forced its way into the automotive factories of the mid-twentieth century. The UAW stood out like a sore thumb among the country’s many more conservative (and lily-white) unions, with leadership from the likes of former socialist and advocate of industrial democracy Walter Reuther and a strong history of support for the Civil Rights Movement. But to be clear, there was still much work to be done; Black representation in UAW leadership remained scarce despite its membership reaching nearly 30 percent Black in the late 1960s.

The Big Three had hired a wave of Black workers to fill their empty assembly lines during World War II, often subjecting them to the dirtiest and most dangerous tasks available and on-the-job racial discrimination. And then, of course, once white soldiers returned home and a recession set in, those same workers were the first ones sacrificed. Production picked back up in the 1960s, and Black workers were hired in large numbers once again. They grew to become a majority of the workforce in Detroit’s auto plants, but found themselves confronting the same problems as before. In factories where the union and the company had become accustomed to dealing with one another without much fuss, a culture of complacency set in and some workers began to feel that the union was more interested in keeping peace with the bosses than in fighting for its most vulnerable members. Tensions were rising, both in the factories and the world at large. By May 1968, as the struggle for Black liberation consumed the country, the memory of the 1967 Detroit riots remained fresh, and the streets of Paris were paralyzed by general strikes, a cadre of class-conscious Black activists and autoworkers saw an opportunity to press the union into action.

They called themselves DRUM—the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement. DRUM was founded in the wake of a wildcat strike at Dodge’s Detroit plant, staffed by a handful of Black revolutionaries from the Black-owned, anti-capitalist Inner City Voice alternative newspaper. The ICV sprang up during the 1967 Detroit riots, published with a focus on Marxist thought and the Black liberation struggle. DRUM members boasted experience with other prominent movement groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers, combining tactical knowledge with a revolutionary zeal attuned to their time and community.

General Gordon Baker, a seasoned activist and assembly worker at Chrysler’s Dodge Main plant, started DRUM with a series of clandestine meetings throughout the first half of 1968. By May 2, the group had grown powerful enough to see four thousand workers walk out of Dodge Main in a wildcat strike to protest the “speed-up” conditions in the plant, which saw workers forced to produce dangerous speed and work overtime to meet impossible quotas. Over the course of just one week, the plant had increased its output 39 percent. Black workers, joined by a group of older Polish women who worked in the plant’s trim shop, shut down the plant for the day, and soon bore the brunt of management’s wrath. Of the seven workers who were fired after the strike, five were Black. Among them was Baker, who sent a searing letter to the company in response to his dismissal. “In this day and age under the brutal repression reaped from the backs of Black workers, the leadership of a wildcat strike is a badge of honor and courage,” he wrote. “You have made the decision to do battle, and that is the only decision you will make. We shall decide the arena and the time.”

DRUM led another thousands-strong wildcat strike on July 8, this time shutting down the plant for two days and drawing in a number of Arab and white workers as well. Prior to the strike, the group had printed leaflets and held rallies that attracted hundreds of workers, students, and community members, a strategy DRUM would go on to use liberally in later campaigns to gin up support and spread its revolutionary message.

Men like Baker, Kenneth Cockrel, and Mike Hamlin were the public face of DRUM, but their work would have been impossible without the work of their female comrades, whose contributions were often overlooked. Hamlin admitted as much in his book-length conversation with longtime political activist and artist Michele Gibbs, A Black Revolutionary’s Life in Labor. “Possibly my deepest regret,” Hamlin writes, “is that we could not curb, much less transform, the doggish behavior and chauvinist attitudes of many of the men.”

Black women in the movement persevered despite this discrimination and disrespect at work, and they also found allies in unexpected places. Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese American Marxist philosopher and activist with a PhD from Bryn Mawr, met her future husband James Boggs in Detroit after moving there in 1953. She and James, a Black activist, author (1963’s The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook), and Chrysler autoworker, became fixtures in Detroit’s Black radical circles. They naturally fell in with the DRUM cadre, and Grace fit perfectly when Hamlin organized a DRUM-sponsored book club discussion forum in order to draw in progressive white and more moderate Black sympathizers. Interest in the Marxist book club was unexpectedly robust, and it grew to more than eight hundred members in its first year. Grace stepped in to help lead its discussion groups, and allowed young activists to visit her and James at their apartment and talk through thorny philosophical and political questions until the wee hours. She would go on to become one of the nation’s most respected Marxist political intellectuals and a lifelong activist for workers’ rights, feminism, Black liberation, and Asian American issues. As she told an interviewer prior to her death in 2015 at the age of one hundred, “People who recognize that the world is always being created anew, and we’re the ones that have to do it — they make revolutions.”

Further inside the DRUM orbit, Helen Jones, a printer, was the force behind the creation and distribution of their leaflets and publications. Women like Paula Hankins, Rachel Bishop, and Edna Ewell Watson, a nurse and confidant of Marxist scholar and former Black Panther Angela Davis, undertook their own labor organizing projects. In one case, the trio led a union drive among local hospital workers in the DRUM faction, hoping to carve out a place for female leadership within their movement. But ultimately, these expansion plans were dropped due to a lack of full support within DRUM. “Many of the male leaders acted as if women were sexual commodities, mindless, emotionally unstable, or invisible,” Edna Watson later told Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin for their Detroit: I Do Mind Dying. She claimed the organization held a traditionalist Black patriarchal view of women, in which they were expected to center and support their male counterparts’ needs at the expense of their own agenda. “There was no lack of roles for women... as long as they accepted subordination and invisibility.”

By 1969, the movement had spread to multiple other plants in the city, birthing groups like ELRUM (Eldon Avenue RUM), JARUM (Jefferson Avenue RUM), and outliers like UPRUM (UPS workers) and HRUM (healthcare workers). The disparate RUM groups then combined forces, forming the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. The new organization was to be led by the principles of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism, but the league was never an ideological monolith. Its seven-member executive committee could not fully cohere the different political tendencies of its board or its eighty-member deep inner control group. Most urgently, opinions diverged on what shape, if any, further growth should take.