Workers at Indie Game Studio Tender Claws File for Union Election

The Communications Workers of America is going public with yet another union drive at a video game studio.

The labor giant, which also represents news, public service and higher education workers, among others, announced on Friday that staffers at indie video game and art studio Tender Claws have filed for a union representation election with the National Labor Relations Board to be represented in collective bargaining by the CWA. According to the union, management has agreed to voluntarily recognize the workers if an acceptable agreement is reached by the two parties. Thirteen workers are involved in the organization effort, in non-contractor roles including writers, producers, developers, artists, engineers and QA testers. The group attempting to unionize is calling themselves the Tender Claws Human Union.

“Unfortunately, the video game industry sees a high rate of turnover. Studios constantly lose talent because workers are looking for better conditions and benefits. Tender Claws has been a special community for us, but we want it to be a workplace where we can thrive long-term,” Tender Claws game programmer Robin LoBuglio said in a statement. “Forming a union is a way for us to have an equal say in the decisions that affect us.”

In a statement, Tender Claws co-founders Danny Cannizzaro and Samantha Gorman said that their studios’ work would not be possible without “the creativity, talent, and commitment of our employees.” They added, “We’ve worked hard over the years to make Tender Claws a supportive place to work where employees have the flexibility they need to pursue their own artistic and commercial endeavors, learn new skills, and repeatedly return to work together. The Tender Claws Human Union will no doubt have a positive impact both within and beyond our walls, and we are thrilled to recognize and work with the union, collaborating to make Tender Claws the best working environment it can be.”

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The announcement arrives just three days after the CWA unveiled that it was seeking to organize a second workplace at video game holding company Activision Blizzard. Since launching a concerted effort to organize video game and digital workers in 2020, the labor organization has secured certified unions at indie studio Vodeo Games and Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software.

The L.A.-based Tender Claws produces both games and experiences (such as immersive theater), with past projects including Virtual Virtual Reality, Tempest and The Under Presents; the studio was a finalist for an Emmy for outstanding innovation in interactive media in 2020 and a finalist for XR game of the year at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival. Its titles have appeared at the Sundance Film Festival in 2018 and 2019.

Liz Walcker, a 3-D artist at Tender Claws, added in a statement of the union effort, “The video game industry suffers from a dynamic where the majority of people working on these games have a minority of the decision-making power. This power imbalance can lead to issues like extended crunch times, which negatively impact workers’ lives.” She continued, “Tender Claws and the game industry as a whole need unions so that workers can take a seat at the table to collaboratively address these issues.”