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Union Launches National Organizing Effort in Gaming and Tech Industries

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.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume X, Number 21

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About this Author

Patrick Egan, Labor Law Attorney, Jackson Lewis, Boston Law Firm
Patrick L. Egan

Patrick L. Egan is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Mr. Egan works in traditional labor law.

He has assisted employers in all industries in all phases of union organizing campaigns. Mr. Egan has represented employers in card-signing efforts and representation and decertification campaigns. He has conducted union awareness and positive employee relations training for hundreds of companies and employer groups. He has also assisted dozens of employers to preempt, prepare for and defend against union corporate campaigning....

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Jonathan J. Spitz, Jackson Lewis Law Firm, Labor Employment Attorney, Atlanta
Shareholder

Jonathan J. Spitz is a Principal in the Atlanta, Georgia, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the firm’s Labor and Preventive Practices Group.

Mr. Spitz lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media issues and the changing regulatory landscape. He understands the practical and operational needs of corporate America, helping design pragmatic strategies to minimize risk and maximize performance. He has represented management in dozens of counter-organizing drives and participated in countless unfair labor practice proceedings, discrimination charges and other matters before the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other federal and state administrative agencies, as well as in collective bargaining, arbitration and in employment litigation before state and federal courts. Mr. Spitz regularly counsels employers in employee relations and discipline and discharge matters, and also assists employers in drafting employment policies and in complying with the Family and Medical Leave Act, drug testing laws and regulations, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state employment laws.

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