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October 17, 2005

Why is “union” a dirty word?

Filed under: Thoughts and Rants — Tom B @ 8:14 am

Among the many forums and mail lists I subscribe to is the IGDA Quality of Live Committee list (QoL). Since I have a background in employment law as well as game stuff, it was a natural. I presented last year as the IGDA think tank at GDC and have been interviewed frequently for comment on everything from the EA class action suit to employee exploitation in the game industry. And one thing I have noticed…people who work in the game industry think that unions are a “bad” thing.

Sure unions can and do become as corrupt as any other institution in American society. But certainly they are no more corrupt than say your average municipal government. And they certainly did not begin as corrupt organizations. That only happens when the rank and file lose interest and allow others to take over their union. After all, unions are run by their members through a group of elected representatives.

But no one argues that all of the line employees in a company can’t negotiate better working conditions that individual employees can. Of course they can. So, organizing would get a good result. Better working conditions, vacation time, health and retirement benefits, even profit sharing are just a few benefits that collective bargaining could get for employees. So, I gotta wonder…why is there so much hostility toward even discussing the idea of some of the bigger studios becoming union shops?

I have a few ideas…possibly it is snoberism. Being in a union is considered working class and most developers consider themselves to be “above” that. Though it is difficult for me to see much of a difference between making chevies on an assembly line and making Madden 2007 on an assembly line. Sure I get it for small creative teams. But not for a line workers and they are the ones getting screwed the most, with the least power, at a time in their careers when they are most vulnerable.

Too bad that senior developers don’t take a bit more responsibility for those on the lower tiers of the industry. I suspect that if Will Wright asked management at EA to please treat those working on his SIMS games a little better, EA would do it. Especially if Will said that if they did not he’d take his next game to Midway!


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