The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has begun a nationwide union-organizing campaign targeting game and tech industry employees, in partnership with Game Workers Unite! (GWU), a so-called “grass-roots” worker group founded in Southern California in 2018 to spur unionization in the gaming industry. As here, such groups typically are founded and funded by established labor organizations.
The idea for the organizing effort is the result of discussions between the CWA and GWU over the past months. In addition, CWA Canada is partnering with the GWU chapter in Toronto. The CWA has used similar partnerships with other activist groups, most recently teaming up with the Committee for Better Banks to attempt to organize banking sector employees.
Organizing is being spearheaded by Emma Kinema, a co-founder of GWU, and Wes McEnany, a former organizer with the Service Employees International Union and leader of the “Fight for 15” effort. Kinema will lead the organizing on the West Coast, McEnany will focus on the East Coast. Organizers from CWA locals across the country will populate the teams. According to Kinema, the issues on which the union will focus are: “crunch,” or long hours for weeks or months to meet launch deadlines; cyclical layoffs; harassment; misogyny; gender-based pay discrimination; values and ethical issues, such as working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); climate change; AI ethics; and pay, severance, and benefits. According to Tom Smith, CWA’s lead organizer, “For a lot of folks, that’s what led them to do this work in the first place, and people are feeling a disconnect between their personal values and what they’re seeing every day in the working lives.”
With the moniker CODE – Campaign to Organize Digital Employees – the ambitious initiative seeks to organize employees across the industry, typically at individual shops or employers. According to Kinema, “We believe workers are strongest when they’re together in one shop in one union, so the disciplines can’t be pitted against each other – none of that’s good for the workers. I think in games and tech, the wall-to-wall industrial model is the best fit.” Smith said the CWA would be open to craft-based organizing – where the focus is industry-wide bargaining units composed of employees performing similar work at different employers – if that is what employees want. In an industry where workers frequently move from employer to employer, portable benefits can be attractive.
An annual survey by the International Game Developers Association, an industry group, found that gaming worker interest in unions had increased to 47 percent by 2019. Indeed, a representation petition is pending at the Brooklyn office of the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the employees at a gaming company. About 220,000 employees work in the two-billion-dollar gaming industry.
The union has established a website — www.code-cwa.org – as well as a presence on other social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
As most union organizing is based on the presence in the workplace of unresolved employee issues, a comprehensive analysis of such matters may be valuable to employer. Also, supervisors and managers often interact frequently with employees when organizing is afoot or underway. Training regarding their rights and responsibilities under the labor laws often is essential. Please feel free to contact a member of the firm’s Labor Practice Group or other Jackson Lewis attorney if you want to discuss these topics.