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Monday, December 11, 2023

ZeniMax employees vote to form the biggest videogame union in the US

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The Communications Workers of America announced today that a “supermajority” of quality assurance workers at ZeniMax Studios have officially voted to join the ZeniMax Workers United/CWA, forming the first videogame studio union at parent company Microsoft and what will be—for a while, at least—the largest union of videogame workers in the US.

The official voting period ran from December 2 to December 31, but the CWA said union organizing efforts have been underway at ZeniMax for “months,” and that some employees began signing union authorization cards in November.

“We’re thrilled to kick off 2023 in a workplace that’s stronger and more equitable than it was last year,” senior QA tester Skylar Hinnant said. “This is an empowering victory that allows us to protect ourselves and each other in a way we never could without a union. Our hope and belief is that this is the year in which game workers across the country exercise their power and reshape the industry as a whole.”

“It’s difficult to express in words just how much winning our union matters to us,” senior QA tester Dylan Burton said. “We’ve been working so hard to get here that it would be impossible not to be excited. We know this is not the end of our hard work, but reaching this milestone gives us faith that when workers stand together, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.”

In contrast to Activision Blizzard, which has fought unions tooth and nail, Microsoft—which may soon become Activision’s parent company—committed to neutrality in the ZeniMax union vote when it was first announced. Shortly after the vote was tallied, Microsoft extended official recognition of the new union.

“In light of the results of the recent unionization vote, we recognize the Communications Workers of America (CWA) as the bargaining representative for the Quality Assurance employees at ZeniMax,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement emailed to PC Gamer. “We look forward to engaging in good faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement.”

CWA president Chris Shelton was critical of other game studios and tech company that choose to “attack, undermine, and demoralize” employees to try to form unions, but paid tribute to Microsoft for “charting a different course which will strengthen its corporate culture and ability to serve its customers.” Microsoft’s approach to unionization “should serve as a model for the industry and as a blueprint for regulators,” Shelton added, which will no doubt make a nice sound bite for Microsoft as it continues to pursue regulatory approval of its acquisition of Activision Blizzard. 

Big news! Congratulations to @ZeniMaxWorkers! We’re so excited to welcome them officially into the CWA family! https://t.co/55X6468UW1January 3, 2023

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Activision-Blizzard has been at the center of game industry unionization efforts, but the formation of ZeniMax Workers United is a big deal in its own right: The company’s subsidiaries include Arkane Studios, Bethesda Softworks, id Software, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks, and ZeniMax Online Studios. The CWA said the new union “includes all QA employees in the US across ZeniMax’s various studios.”

Another Activision Blizzard studio also recently announced its plan to unionize: Proletariat, which Activision acquired in June 2022, announced last week that its employees are forming up as the Proletariat Workers Alliance. Unlike the ZeniMax union and others at Activision Blizzard, which encompass only QA workers, the Proletarian union will cover the entire studio.

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