Indie studio Tender Claws unionizes under CODE-CWA

Another video game studio is unionizing.

Workers at Los Angeles-based indie studio Tender Claws will join Communication Workers of America’s campaign to organize digital workers, the workers told Polygon this week. The union will consist of at least 13 workers in several different departments, including both full-time and part-time producers, artists and programmers. The workers said 100 percent of the union backed the effort.

Tender Claws’ union is called the Tender Claws Human Union, a nod to the company’s own game. virtual Virtual Reality, which contains an in-game union for people working for AI. “[Virtual Virtual Reality] It’s very much about the gig economy and workers’ rights,” Tender Claws 3D artist Liz Walcher told Polygon. “It’s a bit silly and ironic, but we felt it was too good to pass up.”

Workers at Tender Claws petitioned management Tuesday, asking for voluntary recognition. “Although signatures are ongoing, management has agreed to recognize TCHU-CWA pending a mutually acceptable agreement and we look forward to working together,” the workers said. The Tender Claws Human Union submitted its petition to the National Labor Relations Board on Friday.

Founded in 2014 by Danny Cannizzaro and Samantha Gorman, Tender Claws has released a number of unique virtual and alternate reality games and experiences. This includes a virtual AR pet that responds to player expressions tendar and surreal virtual reality comedies Virtual Virtual Reality and Virtual virtual reality 2. Another recent project from the studio is The Sub-Gifts: Storm, a live VR “immersive theater experience” based on the play by Shakespeare. Tender Claws has also released an indie camping game Wide sea, big jacket in 2020.

Cannizzaro and Gorman made the following statement to Polygon through a spokesperson:

Tender Claws is a small studio that has had an outsized impact on the industry – something that would not be possible without the creativity, talent and dedication of our people. We are immensely proud of all we have achieved together and grateful to be collaborating with like-minded individuals eager to explore art, technology and human connections. We’ve worked hard over the years to make Tender Claws a supportive workplace where employees have the flexibility they need to pursue their own artistic and commercial endeavors, learn new skills, and keep coming back to collaborating. The Tender Claws Human Union will undoubtedly have a positive impact both inside and outside our walls and we are pleased to recognize and work with the union to make Tender Claws the best possible place to work.

“I want to keep the things I love about Tender Claws while making sure we can have a future here,” Tender Claws gameplay programmer Robin LoBuglio told Polygon. “Some of the issues we will advocate for as a union are more opportunities for employees to get involved in things like diversifying the hiring process and creating equal pay among all employees. [We’re also] We are pursuing some concrete anti-crunch measures to ensure we all have a sustainable work-life balance and opportunities to grow our careers and grow as developers.”

After decades of quiet (and not-so-quiet) organizing, the video game industry is in the early stages of unionization. North America’s first video game union founded by employees of beastbreaker Developer Vodeo Games, made its historic debut in 2021. New units created by QA staff at Activision Blizzard and Keywords Studios followed. Those studios have officially voted for their unions, while others are earlier in the process, like former Vicarious Visions QA employees at Blizzard Albany, who asked Activision Blizzard last week to recognize its union. (Activision Blizzard did not respond to the petition, opting instead to “issue a response to the petition to the [National Labor Relations Board].”)

“Waking up yesterday and seeing the news released by Blizzard Albany was very encouraging,” LoBuglio said. “Many people will assume that unions are only for huge, sprawling AAA companies, or they will assume that big companies are impossible to unionize – only small ones are what you can do. The perfect synchronization between us and the workers at Blizzard Albany shows that unions are for everyone in every company.”

Walcher added: “There’s this notion that someone has to come and unionize the industry, but that’s not how it happens. We unionized the industry. The unions are the workers. It was exciting to see this wave of change, bit by bit, drop by drop, on the horizon.”

The year 2022 has been marked by increased union activity across a wide range of industries. Ballot motions, which must be submitted before a union vote when a union is not voluntarily recognized, increased 58% in the first three fiscal quarters of 2022, which is more than all ballot motions filed in 2021 overall, according to the NLRB. Similarly, the NLRB said unfair labor practice charges will also increase in 2022: a 16% increase from 2021.

Charges of unfair labor practices were filed against several video game companies in 2022, including Nintendo of America and Activision Blizzard. Charges of unfair labor practices are brought when an employer (or union) is accused of violating the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law guaranteeing the right to unionize, bargain collectively and strike.

Public support for unions is understandably at an all-time high: the US is likely headed for a recession, according to economic indicators, as prices and rents rise while wages stagnate and companies post record profits. It all comes on top of what Vox describes as “a tight labor market, record-breaking inequality and a pro-union administration”. Despite this historic surge, union membership was down in 2021, Vox reported, likely in response to “anti-union politics” and “the rise of gig work.” Indie studio Tender Claws unionizes under CODE-CWA

Charles Jones

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