News & Commentary

January 26, 2022

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

The ongoing saga involving the efforts of several dozen quality assurance testers at Raven Software, the video game development studio and subsidiary of Activision Blizzard responsible for developing popular Call of Duty games, to organize a union hit a speedbump on Tuesday, as Activision “continue[d] to take the low road” and declined the workers’ public request for voluntary recognition.

The saga began early last month, when several media outlets reported that Activision had suddenly laid off almost a third of its QA department after promising them wage increases for weeks. A few days later, the remaining workers walked off the jobsite to protest the cuts, demanding that the company reinstate the terminated workers and furnish full-time employment to all QA testers. The labor struggle was soon converted into a full-fledged strike, lasting five weeks, and the workers then formed a union with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), called the Game Workers Alliance, which they claim enjoys supermajority support among the workforce and they publicly asked Activision to voluntarily recognize late last week, as Kevin explained over the weekend. The stated deadline has lapsed, however, meaning that the studio refused to voluntarily recognize the QA testers’ union, so the workers now intend to file a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

In other union news, ten thousand workers at dozens of King Sooper’s locations across Colorado, a Kroger brand and the Centennial State’s largest supermarket chain, overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new three-year contract offered  by the Kroger Company, which the union had tentatively accepted last week, officially ending a 10-day strike, the start of which I covered earlier this month. The workers, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7, won an impressive wage increase, as big as $5 an hour for some, which UFCW Local 7 proclaimed was “the most significant wage increases ever secured by a UFCW local for grocery workers.” Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who sent a letter to the CEO of Kroger a few days ago expressing his “strong support” for the strike, congratulated the Kroger King Sooper’s workers on Twitter yesterday, writing that “this victory proves that when workers stand together they can defeat corporate greed.”

The New York Times published an article yesterday, relying upon the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) recently-released annual data on union membership for the year 2021 (which Hannah covered on this blog last Friday), documenting that although the U.S. labor movement is enjoying a period of overwhelming popularity and prominent unionization drives and labor agitation among highly recognizable corporate brands, including Amazon, Starbucks, and REI, have made international headlines in recent months, union membership continued to trend downward last year­­—“the prominence of these organizing efforts…obscures the steady downward trend of union membership in the United States for more than four decades,” explains the Times. In the private sector, the article emphasizes, union density has plummeted from nearly 20 percent of the workforce in 1983 to just six percent in 2021. But on a more positive note, the article reports that “labor action has not seen the same steady decline,” highlighting that millions of workers left their jobs every month from July through November 2021 and workers at major companies, such as John Deere and Kellogg, launched successful strikes in recent weeks. The Times article is merely the latest in a recent trend of more favorable coverage of labor and unions in major media publications.

In somewhat ironically related news, Bloomberg reports that the NewsGuild of New York-CWA, which represents 1,300 journalists and editorial employees at the Times, filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday, accusing the New York Times Company of excluding unionized workers from three paid holidays that were extended to the rest of the workforce — Veterans Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and Juneteenth — which the NewGuild claims was designed to discourage the Times’ tech workers from voting to join the union in their currently ongoing election.

If such allegations are true, the Times’ actions seem to constitute a relatively clear-cut violation of § 8(a)(3) of the NLRA, which proscribes “discrimination in regard to…any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization” (28 U.S.C. § 158(a)(3)). A spokesperson for the Times dismissed the union’s allegations as “categorically false,” claiming that the publisher was not permitted to extend these holidays to unionized employees without their approval—a statement which seems to implicitly admit that the company indeed failed to provide the holidays to the unionized workers. In any event, the matter is now one for an NLRB Regional Director to investigate.

Finally, here at Harvard, after nearly four months of negotiations, around 200 security guards represented by 32BJ SEIU voted to reject a contract offer from Securitas USA, one of the largest security services firms in the country, as Sophia Scott of the Harvard Crimson reported earlier today. A member of 32BJ’s bargaining committee, which opposed the contract proposal, blasted Securitas’ offer as “insulting,” while another insisted that “we’re not asking for one million dollars,” but just “a decent contract” and “fair treatment.” Although more than 80 percent of the workers who voted against the proposed contract simultaneously indicated support for a strike authorization, for now the nearly 300 security guards on campus represented by 32BJ will continue to work without the protections of a union contract—their previous CBA with Securitas expired two weeks ago, on January 13.

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