Posted: 13th June 2019

Question: What would widespread unionization in the UK games industry mean for the industry both here and internationally?

At a large scale, it means that game workers will come together and leverage their collective voice to achieve better working conditions and act as a counterbalance to their bosses. What specific demands people in any workplace may push for, depends on them, as they together form the union and decide on what to do.

To give a real-life example, SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guildā€American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) has unionized American voice actors and performers for years.

Following 19 months of unsuccessful negotiations and then their biggest strike to date (340 days), they have achieved a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with eleven major companies.

That CBA includes a set rate for sessions, higher residuals & bonuses based on the games success, greater transparency of role requirements (are swearing, racial slurs, sexual content, stunts, etc. required?), and a 3% wage increase per year.

It also requires companies to pay into the SAG-AFTRA  Health Plan & Retirement Fund, a vital benefit for freelancers in the US.

Writers Guild of America East (WGA-E) has similarly unionized various digital news sites including games journalists at places such as Vice Media (Waypoint), Gizmodo Media Group (Kotaku) and Vox Media (Polygon). Their collective bargaining agreements show that it can be about more than just pay, holiday, and the 40-hour work week.

The Vice Media CBA establishes anti-harassment and anti-bias policies & trainings, stipulates gender pronoun use in the workplace, provides gold standard benefits for transgender & people that identify as gender non-conforming, and explicit protections against online harassment (think GamerGate).

WGA-Es Gizmodo CBA includes severance for layoffs with a guaranteed minimum, Non-Discrimination language, $20,000 in annual funding for diversity initiatives, improved protections against sexual harassment and the right to union representation in bringing a case of sexual harassment.

And yes, the CBAs come with guaranteed yearly raises, increased maternity and paternity leave, etc.  as well.

But you don't necessarily need a collective bargaining agreement to improve conditions.

Remember the RiotWalkout and Riots refusal to change its stance on forced arbitration? Unionized employees at Vox Media successfully pushed for an end of forced arbitration by collectively putting pressure on the company. No CBA or walkout necessary, just an existing environment of unionized workers that can represent and amplify the voices of workers to the bosses.

Unions are a tool that allows workers to achieve the conditions they want, whatever those may be.

Do you want to get rid of excessive crunch completely? We can do that.

You are fine with working moderate amounts of overtime, but want it to be paid? Sounds good to me.

You'd prefer overtime pay to be at a higher rate, with further increases for overtime on weekends and bank holidays? Let's do it.

You want to tackle the huge gender pay gap in the industry? Fantastic.

Both SAG-AFRA and WGA-E lean closer to the craft union model, which means that they represent workers of a particular discipline or trade.

But what we at Game Workers Unite and the IWGB are aiming for is an industrial union, where every worker at a particular company, whether they are a programmer, artist, QA tester, community manager or recruiter, are all part of the same union.

What would a fully unionized games industry look like?

It would be an industry where a diverse set of people make games for 50 years while being paid & treated fairly.

Don't miss Kevin's Roundtable - Let's Talk Union 101 with Game Workers Unite UK on Thursday 11 July. Find out more...

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