CWA files unfair labor practice charge against eBay’s trading card subsidiary

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has filed an unfair labor practice charge against eBay-owned TCGplayer on behalf of workers at the trading card marketplace. The organization says TCGplayer supervisors and managers, including founder and CEO Chedy Hampson, illegally surveilled union activity in recent weeks.

Workers at TCGplayer are trying to unionze and this week, a supermajority filed for a union representation election. If they're successful, they'll form TCG Union/CWA, which will be the first union within eBay.

The CWA claims that TCGplayer higher-ups have walked the floors of the company's authentication center in Syracuse, New York. It says the supervisors and managers were taking note of employees who wore clothing or badges that identified them as supporters of the union drive. "This conduct constitutes unlawful surveillance of union activity and further created an impression of surveillance designed to interfere with, restrain and coerce employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Relations Labor Act," the CWA said in a statement.

The workers renewed their attempts to form a union after eBay bought TCGplayer late last year in a deal worth up to $295 million. They previously tried to organize in 2020, but withdrew their union election petition a few days before the vote. The CWA says that TCGplayer thwarted those efforts by bringing in a union-busting firm and running "an intense anti-union campaign where workers were regularly ordered to attend captive audience meetings and disparaged by management in company communications."

Engadget has contacted TCGplayer and eBay for comment.

CWA files unfair labor practice charge against eBay’s trading card subsidiary

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has filed an unfair labor practice charge against eBay-owned TCGplayer on behalf of workers at the trading card marketplace. The organization says TCGplayer supervisors and managers, including founder and CEO Chedy Hampson, illegally surveilled union activity in recent weeks.

Workers at TCGplayer are trying to unionze and this week, a supermajority filed for a union representation election. If they're successful, they'll form TCG Union/CWA, which will be the first union within eBay.

The CWA claims that TCGplayer higher-ups have walked the floors of the company's authentication center in Syracuse, New York. It says the supervisors and managers were taking note of employees who wore clothing or badges that identified them as supporters of the union drive. "This conduct constitutes unlawful surveillance of union activity and further created an impression of surveillance designed to interfere with, restrain and coerce employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Relations Labor Act," the CWA said in a statement.

The workers renewed their attempts to form a union after eBay bought TCGplayer late last year in a deal worth up to $295 million. They previously tried to organize in 2020, but withdrew their union election petition a few days before the vote. The CWA says that TCGplayer thwarted those efforts by bringing in a union-busting firm and running "an intense anti-union campaign where workers were regularly ordered to attend captive audience meetings and disparaged by management in company communications."

Engadget has contacted TCGplayer and eBay for comment.

Workers at eBay-owned trading card marketplace TCGplayer are trying to unionize

More than 280 workers at TCGplayer, a marketplace for trading card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon, are trying to unionize. A supermajority of the workers have filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. If their efforts are successful, they'll form the first union at eBay, which bought TCGplayer in 2022 in a deal worth up to $295 million.

Employees of several card and tabletop companies have unionized, including Card Kingdom, Bellevue Mox Boarding House, Noble Knight Games and Paizo. The TCGplayer workers are similarly trying to organize with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which has also worked with severalvideo game studios in their unionization attempts.

“We are ready to unlock the full potential we know TCGplayer can have. By forming a union, we are able to support each other, customers, and sellers to create the best TCGplayer for all of us," Jennifer Bonham, a shipping generalist at TCGplayer, said in a statement. "We are incredibly passionate about our work, but passion can only get us so far. We want to see our collective health and well-being thrive because for many of us, this is the best job we have ever had."

The workers are organizing as TCG Union/CWA and are all employed at the company's authentication center in Syracuse, New York. They each play a hand in ensuring card shipments meet quality standards and that they're accurately completed.

The workers are seeking an end to pay caps; pay rises to account for inflation and cost of living increases; and "a fair and comprehensive sick leave and absence policy that does not punish people" for issues outside of their control. Moreover, they're demanding inclusive career advancement opportunities; fair and transparent hiring practices; clearly defined job roles and expectations; and the resources and training needed to do their jobs. On top of that, they're asking for a seat at the table, along with "just cause and clear grievance and discipline procedures, applied equally to management."

This isn't the first time that the workers have attempted to unionize, as Polygon notes. They tried to do so almost three years ago with the Service Employees International Union. However, just days before the scheduled vote, they withdrew the petition. The eBay acquisition is said to have reignited the unionization drive.

"We have received notice that a petition is being filed by the Communications Workers of America labor union asking the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a vote on union representation," a TCGplayer spokesperson told Engadget in a statement. "We have not seen that petition by the National Labor Relations Board, nor have we had the chance to review it. We respect an employee’s right to choose or to decline union representation, and acknowledge this is a big decision. Our commitment to our employees during this time is to ensure they have the information needed to make an informed and confidential choice."

Engadget has contacted eBay for comment.

Workers at eBay-owned trading card marketplace TCGplayer are trying to unionize

More than 280 workers at TCGplayer, a marketplace for trading card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon, are trying to unionize. A supermajority of the workers have filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. If their efforts are successful, they'll form the first union at eBay, which bought TCGplayer in 2022 in a deal worth up to $295 million.

Employees of several card and tabletop companies have unionized, including Card Kingdom, Bellevue Mox Boarding House, Noble Knight Games and Paizo. The TCGplayer workers are similarly trying to organize with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which has also worked with severalvideo game studios in their unionization attempts.

“We are ready to unlock the full potential we know TCGplayer can have. By forming a union, we are able to support each other, customers, and sellers to create the best TCGplayer for all of us," Jennifer Bonham, a shipping generalist at TCGplayer, said in a statement. "We are incredibly passionate about our work, but passion can only get us so far. We want to see our collective health and well-being thrive because for many of us, this is the best job we have ever had."

The workers are organizing as TCG Union/CWA and are all employed at the company's authentication center in Syracuse, New York. They each play a hand in ensuring card shipments meet quality standards and that they're accurately completed.

The workers are seeking an end to pay caps; pay rises to account for inflation and cost of living increases; and "a fair and comprehensive sick leave and absence policy that does not punish people" for issues outside of their control. Moreover, they're demanding inclusive career advancement opportunities; fair and transparent hiring practices; clearly defined job roles and expectations; and the resources and training needed to do their jobs. On top of that, they're asking for a seat at the table, along with "just cause and clear grievance and discipline procedures, applied equally to management."

This isn't the first time that the workers have attempted to unionize, as Polygon notes. They tried to do so almost three years ago with the Service Employees International Union. However, just days before the scheduled vote, they withdrew the petition. The eBay acquisition is said to have reignited the unionization drive.

"We have received notice that a petition is being filed by the Communications Workers of America labor union asking the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a vote on union representation," a TCGplayer spokesperson told Engadget in a statement. "We have not seen that petition by the National Labor Relations Board, nor have we had the chance to review it. We respect an employee’s right to choose or to decline union representation, and acknowledge this is a big decision. Our commitment to our employees during this time is to ensure they have the information needed to make an informed and confidential choice."

Engadget has contacted eBay for comment.

Blizzard support studio workers drop union bid (updated)

One Activision Blizzard studio won't form a union, at least not in the near future. The Communication Workers of America (CWA) says it's withdrawing its petition for a union vote at Blizzard support studio Proletariat, which is currently working on World of Warcraft: Dragonflight. As Kotakunotes, a CWA spokesperson claims Proletariat chief Seth Sivak saw employees' unionization move as a "personal attack" and held meetings that allegedly "demoralized and disempowered" the team enough to prevent a fair election.

The pro-union group, the Proletariat Workers Alliance, said in December that it had majority support. Activision Blizzard declined to willingly recognize the union, though, forcing an election through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It's not clear how much support the vote has now, but Proletariat engineer Dustin Yost says in a statement that the union-busting meetings "took their toll."

We've asked Activision Blizzard and the CWA for comment. There are no immediate indications the CWA plans to resubmit the petition or file a complaint with the NLRB over the alleged anti-union tactics. Yost says he still feels a union is the "best way" to get industry representation.

Staff at Activision Blizzard's Albany studio and Raven Software successfully unionized last year despite accusations of anti-union tactics from the publisher. However, those campaigns were limited to quality assurance testers. Proletariat Workers Alliance hoped to unite the entire studio except for management, which was considerably more complex. According to an Axiossource, some teammates felt the unionization push was too quick and didn't give them the time to understand the consequences.

This doesn't rule out a union at Proletariat or other Activision Blizzard teams. With that said, it comes as workers across the tech space seek to unionize, including at gaming giants like Microsoft's ZeniMax. Developers and testers don't feel they're getting fair working conditions, and they're increasingly willing to speak out on the subject.

Update 1/24 4:44PM ET: The CWA reiterated its stance in a statement to Engadget. Blizzard said it "appreciate[d]" the decision to withdraw the petition, and maintained that it "welcomed" the opportunity for employees to vote.

Blizzard support studio workers drop union bid (updated)

One Activision Blizzard studio won't form a union, at least not in the near future. The Communication Workers of America (CWA) says it's withdrawing its petition for a union vote at Blizzard support studio Proletariat, which is currently working on World of Warcraft: Dragonflight. As Kotakunotes, a CWA spokesperson claims Proletariat chief Seth Sivak saw employees' unionization move as a "personal attack" and held meetings that allegedly "demoralized and disempowered" the team enough to prevent a fair election.

The pro-union group, the Proletariat Workers Alliance, said in December that it had majority support. Activision Blizzard declined to willingly recognize the union, though, forcing an election through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It's not clear how much support the vote has now, but Proletariat engineer Dustin Yost says in a statement that the union-busting meetings "took their toll."

We've asked Activision Blizzard and the CWA for comment. There are no immediate indications the CWA plans to resubmit the petition or file a complaint with the NLRB over the alleged anti-union tactics. Yost says he still feels a union is the "best way" to get industry representation.

Staff at Activision Blizzard's Albany studio and Raven Software successfully unionized last year despite accusations of anti-union tactics from the publisher. However, those campaigns were limited to quality assurance testers. Proletariat Workers Alliance hoped to unite the entire studio except for management, which was considerably more complex. According to an Axiossource, some teammates felt the unionization push was too quick and didn't give them the time to understand the consequences.

This doesn't rule out a union at Proletariat or other Activision Blizzard teams. With that said, it comes as workers across the tech space seek to unionize, including at gaming giants like Microsoft's ZeniMax. Developers and testers don't feel they're getting fair working conditions, and they're increasingly willing to speak out on the subject.

Update 1/24 4:44PM ET: The CWA reiterated its stance in a statement to Engadget. Blizzard said it "appreciate[d]" the decision to withdraw the petition, and maintained that it "welcomed" the opportunity for employees to vote.

Microsoft is now the home of the video game industry’s largest union

Quality assurance workers at ZeniMax Studios have voted in favor of forming a union with Communications Workers of America — and ZeniMax's parent company, Microsoft, didn't stand in the way. Microsoft formally recognized ZeniMax Workers United/CWA alongside today's vote results, making this the largest union in the video game industry and the first US union at Microsoft overall.

About 300 ZeniMax staff members were involved in the unionization effort, which was brewing for months before going public in early December. This was around the time QA testers at another major video game studio, Blizzard Albany, voted to unionize with CWA. The Blizzard Albany union is the second at parent company Activision Blizzard, after QA staff at Raven Software voted to organize in May 2022.

The employees behind ZeniMax Workers United/CWA argue that the union will help put an end to sudden periods of crunch, make pay more equitable, and improve communication with management, among other workplace benefits. ZeniMax Studios specializes in online experiences and is responsible for Elder Scrolls Online. The studio was absorbed by Microsoft in March 2021 as part of the broader ZeniMax Media acquisition, a $7.5 billion deal that brought Bethesda and other prominent development houses under the Xbox banner.

A Microsoft spokesperson provided the following statement regarding the ZeniMax Studios vote: "In light of the results of the recent unionization vote, we recognize the Communications Workers of America as the bargaining representative for the Quality Assurance employees at ZeniMax. We look forward to engaging in good faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement."

Microsoft is currently attempting to acquire — emphasis on attempting — Activision Blizzard, which would tie all of these unionization campaigns together. Activision Blizzard has actively tried to quell organization efforts, while Microsoft in June said it would respect all unionization efforts at Activision Blizzard. The ZeniMax vote was the first big test of Microsoft's neutrality when facing internal unionization.

The year organized labor finally took root in big tech

Blessedly 2022, a year that by most people's estimation will be remembered as lousy, will soon be in the rear view mirror of history. Hallelujah, life goes on.

There are any number of reasons to give a failing grade to The Year That Was: Inflation and the still-looming threat of another global recession, critical legislative losses on abortion and trans rights, yet another new covid variant, having to pay attention to Elon Musk — take your pick. But, in the realm of labor, there's at least one reason to feel hopeful. 2022 was the year unions won elections to represent workers at two of the world's biggest tech companies, with a third likely on the way.

Workers at an Apple Store in Towson, Maryland made history in June, becoming the first 110 unionized members of the tech giant's approximately 160,000 person workforce. They chose to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, but the Baltimore-area staffers are far from alone. Retail workers at a store in Oklahoma City became the second unionized faction within Apple in October — backed by the Communications Workers of America — while another in Glasgow, Scotland — joining GMB — became the third in November.

Many other Apple Store locations have been agitating for better conditions as well, a non-exhaustive list of which includes two stores in New York City, one in St. Louis, and one in Atlanta. Some of these have stalled or been frustrated by the usual union-busting tactics, like an alleged policy created by management in New York's World Trade Center location to curtail organizing. The company's anti-union tactics in Atlanta have since been deemed illegal by the National Labor Relations Board. And of course, Apple reportedly hasn't given up on undermining already unionized locations. Workers at that same Towson store claim the company is withholding new benefits seemingly in retaliation.

Amazon workers in Staten Island have likewise become the first to organize one of the company's warehouses — and not with an established union, either. Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a grassroots effort which officially established itself last April, secured a win against tremendous odds, less than a year after forming. Those odds, incidentally, included retaliatory firings of leaders, using police to intimidate and arrest organizers and an (unsuccessful) attempt to overturn the unionization vote. Amazon has previously illegally interfered with a union election and reportedly retains the services of operatives from the infamous Pinkerton agency to spy on workers and labor groups. The company's new CEO, Andy Jassy, recently violated labor laws in several interviews by openly stating his employees would be “better off without a union.” This is all to say ALU had a tremendous uphill climb and, incredibly, managed to pull it off.

As with Apple though, what we're talking about is a first step. The company has not bargained a contract yet with workers from ALU, and will likely forestall and undermine that process as much as possible, whether by legal or illegal means.

ALU's organizing efforts have branched out but have so far not found the same success. A warehouse in upstate New York voted overwhelmingly against unionization. However, management had put up digital banners at the same location ahead of its organizing drive instructing workers specifically not to sign union cards, again in apparent contravention of labor law. ALU withdrew a union petition to organize a warehouse in California in October, but has remained open to refiling. Apart from ALU, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters claimed last December that organizing Amazon facilities would be a top priority — seemingly it has focused those efforts on an Amazon Air hub in San Bernardino, where workers have walked out in August and October. The surrounding area — California's inland empire — is believed to be home to the highest density of Amazon facilities in the company's logistics network.

Microsoft, too, received an early Christmas present in the form of quality assurance testers at its subsidiary ZeniMax Media announcing their intention to unionize with the Communications Workers of America. While that election has not yet taken place, Microsoft's president Brad Smith penned a lengthy screed earlier this year supposedly espousing the company's openness to union representation within its ranks. To many (this author especially) Brad's words were hot air intended to assuage regulators who are weighing whether to allow the company to merge with games giant Activision-Blizzard. Incidentally if that deal goes through, Microsoft will be home to three bargaining units: this past year QA testers at Raven Software and Blizzard Albany successfully joined the CWA in May and December, respectively, becoming the first workers not only at Activision but at any major games publisher to do so.

Necessarily a huge number of other labor actions in the tech space have been left out of this recollection, but for the most part they fit the pattern above: lower-paid workers at wildly profitable companies whose wages have not even remotely kept up with inflation. Adding insult to injury, tech companies, broadly, did extremely well during the pandemic while these same frontline workers risked their health and safety. Then this year, once economic forecasts became gloomier, many were swept up in downsizing decisions. It's perfectly logical Amazon warehouse workers, games testers at Microsoft and Activision, support staff at Meta, cafeteria workers with Alphabet and Waymo, janitors at Twitter and retail associates at Apple, Google Fiber and Verizon would be unhappy with their work arrangements. It's the same reason rail workers, nurses and Starbucks baristas have been agitating, and the same reason approval for unions is the highest it's been since 1965. Things aren't working. The hand they've been dealt is unwinnable. And though an imperfect tool, unions are one of the few ways workers can attempt to renegotiate the terms.

Unfortunately, labor law in the US leaves much to be desired. Companies have incredible power to delay bargaining, wearing down their own workforces by attrition while cooking up excuses to fire, lay off or manage out organizing leaders. Even after the hurdle of winning a union election, according to Bloomberg Law, the mean negotiation time to secure a contract is over 13 months — and many take significantly longer. The penalties for breaking labor law are so minimal, especially for companies of Big Tech's size, as to be non-existent. Whether this groundswell of organizing continues to grow in the coming year remains in every way an open question, depending at least in part on economic realities. With layoffs continuing to ravage not just frontline workers but higher-wage tech jobs, there's reasons enough to suspect it might.

The year organized labor finally took root in big tech

Blessedly 2022, a year that by most people's estimation will be remembered as lousy, will soon be in the rear view mirror of history. Hallelujah, life goes on.

There are any number of reasons to give a failing grade to The Year That Was: Inflation and the still-looming threat of another global recession, critical legislative losses on abortion and trans rights, yet another new covid variant, having to pay attention to Elon Musk — take your pick. But, in the realm of labor, there's at least one reason to feel hopeful. 2022 was the year unions won elections to represent workers at two of the world's biggest tech companies, with a third likely on the way.

Workers at an Apple Store in Towson, Maryland made history in June, becoming the first 110 unionized members of the tech giant's approximately 160,000 person workforce. They chose to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, but the Baltimore-area staffers are far from alone. Retail workers at a store in Oklahoma City became the second unionized faction within Apple in October — backed by the Communications Workers of America — while another in Glasgow, Scotland — joining GMB — became the third in November.

Many other Apple Store locations have been agitating for better conditions as well, a non-exhaustive list of which includes two stores in New York City, one in St. Louis, and one in Atlanta. Some of these have stalled or been frustrated by the usual union-busting tactics, like an alleged policy created by management in New York's World Trade Center location to curtail organizing. The company's anti-union tactics in Atlanta have since been deemed illegal by the National Labor Relations Board. And of course, Apple reportedly hasn't given up on undermining already unionized locations. Workers at that same Towson store claim the company is withholding new benefits seemingly in retaliation.

Amazon workers in Staten Island have likewise become the first to organize one of the company's warehouses — and not with an established union, either. Amazon Labor Union (ALU), a grassroots effort which officially established itself last April, secured a win against tremendous odds, less than a year after forming. Those odds, incidentally, included retaliatory firings of leaders, using police to intimidate and arrest organizers and an (unsuccessful) attempt to overturn the unionization vote. Amazon has previously illegally interfered with a union election and reportedly retains the services of operatives from the infamous Pinkerton agency to spy on workers and labor groups. The company's new CEO, Andy Jassy, recently violated labor laws in several interviews by openly stating his employees would be “better off without a union.” This is all to say ALU had a tremendous uphill climb and, incredibly, managed to pull it off.

As with Apple though, what we're talking about is a first step. The company has not bargained a contract yet with workers from ALU, and will likely forestall and undermine that process as much as possible, whether by legal or illegal means.

ALU's organizing efforts have branched out but have so far not found the same success. A warehouse in upstate New York voted overwhelmingly against unionization. However, management had put up digital banners at the same location ahead of its organizing drive instructing workers specifically not to sign union cards, again in apparent contravention of labor law. ALU withdrew a union petition to organize a warehouse in California in October, but has remained open to refiling. Apart from ALU, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters claimed last December that organizing Amazon facilities would be a top priority — seemingly it has focused those efforts on an Amazon Air hub in San Bernardino, where workers have walked out in August and October. The surrounding area — California's inland empire — is believed to be home to the highest density of Amazon facilities in the company's logistics network.

Microsoft, too, received an early Christmas present in the form of quality assurance testers at its subsidiary ZeniMax Media announcing their intention to unionize with the Communications Workers of America. While that election has not yet taken place, Microsoft's president Brad Smith penned a lengthy screed earlier this year supposedly espousing the company's openness to union representation within its ranks. To many (this author especially) Brad's words were hot air intended to assuage regulators who are weighing whether to allow the company to merge with games giant Activision-Blizzard. Incidentally if that deal goes through, Microsoft will be home to three bargaining units: this past year QA testers at Raven Software and Blizzard Albany successfully joined the CWA in May and December, respectively, becoming the first workers not only at Activision but at any major games publisher to do so.

Necessarily a huge number of other labor actions in the tech space have been left out of this recollection, but for the most part they fit the pattern above: lower-paid workers at wildly profitable companies whose wages have not even remotely kept up with inflation. Adding insult to injury, tech companies, broadly, did extremely well during the pandemic while these same frontline workers risked their health and safety. Then this year, once economic forecasts became gloomier, many were swept up in downsizing decisions. It's perfectly logical Amazon warehouse workers, games testers at Microsoft and Activision, support staff at Meta, cafeteria workers with Alphabet and Waymo, janitors at Twitter and retail associates at Apple, Google Fiber and Verizon would be unhappy with their work arrangements. It's the same reason rail workers, nurses and Starbucks baristas have been agitating, and the same reason approval for unions is the highest it's been since 1965. Things aren't working. The hand they've been dealt is unwinnable. And though an imperfect tool, unions are one of the few ways workers can attempt to renegotiate the terms.

Unfortunately, labor law in the US leaves much to be desired. Companies have incredible power to delay bargaining, wearing down their own workforces by attrition while cooking up excuses to fire, lay off or manage out organizing leaders. Even after the hurdle of winning a union election, according to Bloomberg Law, the mean negotiation time to secure a contract is over 13 months — and many take significantly longer. The penalties for breaking labor law are so minimal, especially for companies of Big Tech's size, as to be non-existent. Whether this groundswell of organizing continues to grow in the coming year remains in every way an open question, depending at least in part on economic realities. With layoffs continuing to ravage not just frontline workers but higher-wage tech jobs, there's reasons enough to suspect it might.

NLRB says Apple violated federal law with anti-union meetings in Atlanta

Apple's attempts to quell employees' unionization efforts violated federal law, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB's Atlanta regional director concluded that Apple held mandatory "captive audience" meetings and made coercive statements with anti-union messaging. The workers at Apple's Cumberland Mall store filed for a union election with the NLRB earlier this year in a bid to join the Communications Workers of America (CWA). In May, however, they withdrew their petition, and the CWA submitted an Unfair Labor Practice complaint on their behalf. 

The CWA said in its complaint at the time that Apple had "conducted mandatory 'captive audience' meetings with bargaining unit employees regarding the upcoming election." In a newer statement sent to Bloomberg, the organization said that holding meetings like that is "not only union-busting, but an example of psychological warfare." As the news organization notes, the NLRB had previously allowed companies to require employees to attend mandatory meetings prior to union elections. But Jennifer Abruzzo, the labor board's current general counsel, sees them as coercive and in violation of the law. 

The NLRB said that it will issue a complaint if the tech giant doesn't settle. While the labor board's regional director has sided with the workers and with CWA, it's still up in the air whether Apple will be required to change its policies or suffer any sort of punishment. Complaints issued by regional directors will have to go through the board's judges, and companies could approach the NLRB's board members in Washington to appeal rulings they hand down. The case could go to federal court after that. 

Apple is facing another complaint by the NLRB, which found enough merit in a report also filed by the CWA on behalf of the company's World Trade Center workers in NYC. For that particular case, Apple was accused of surveilling staff, limiting their access to pro-union fliers and forcing them to listen to anti-union speeches. If Apple doesn't settle, a judge will hear the case on December 13th.