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US labor organization AFL-CIO urges game developers to unionize in open letter

US labor organization AFL-CIO urges game developers to unionize in open letter

February 15, 2019 | By Alissa McAloon

February 15, 2019 | By Alissa McAloon
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“This is a moment for change. It won’t come from CEOs. It won’t come from corporate boards. And, it won’t come from any one person.”

- Liz Shuler, AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer, makes her case for a game developer union

In the wake of Activision Blizzard’s massive layoff wave, a move that was announced in the same call as the company’s record quarter, the union federation AFL-CIO has published an open letter to game developers urging members of the industry to organize.

The AFL-CIO itself is the largest labor organization in the United States and counts 55 individual unions (and more than 12.5 million workers) among its affiliates. 

The letter, readable in full on Kotaku, calls out many of the issues that have prompted conversations about unionization in just recent years like excessive crunch, toxic work conditions, inadequate pay, and job instability. 

The industry, points out AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler, boasted sales 3.6 times greater than those of the film industry in 2018, yet much of that financial success isn’t felt by the developers working on the games that generate those billions. 

“Executives are always quick to brag about your work. It’s the talk of every industry corner office and boardroom. They pay tribute to the games that capture our imaginations and seem to defy economic gravity. They talk up the latest innovations in virtual reality and celebrate record-smashing releases, as your creations reach unparalleled new heights,” says Shuler. 

“My question is this: what have you gotten in return? […] 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.”

Shuler makes the argument that the change needed by the industry won’t happen on its own, and won’t come from those at the top of the triple-A development food chain. She calls out the work already done by Game Workers Unite, a group that got its start last year with the goal of advocating for a game developers union (and has already become a game developer-focused branch of the IWGB union in the UK), as evidence that game developers can “embrace the power of solidarity and prove that you don’t have to accept a broken, twisted status quo.“

“Change will happen when you gain leverage by joining together in a strong union,” says Shuler. “And, it will happen when you use your collective voice to bargain for a fair share of the wealth you create every day. No matter where you work, bosses will only offer fair treatment when you stand together and demand it."



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