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US Labor Board torpedoes Activision's last-minute attempt to impede union vote

PC Gamer 12/1/2022 Joshua Wolens
null © Activision Blizzard null

The US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has sunk an eleventh-hour attempt by Activision to delay a unionisation vote by QA staff at Blizzard Albany. Activision had asked the NLRB to review its decision that Blizzard Albany's 18-person QA team could unionise independently of the rest of the studio's workers, arguing that all 107 staff members at the studio should vote instead. Activision further requested that the vote be delayed while that review took place. The NLRB gave short shrift to both requests.

"The Employer’s Request for Review [...] is denied as it raises no substantial issues warranting review," the NLRB wrote in its response, which meant Activision's secondary request to delay the vote was "denied as moot". 

That's not to suggest the NLRB threw out Activision's petition blithely. In its response, the Board accepts that the "extraordinary degree of functional integration and contact among departments" would ordinarily make a full-studio vote appropriate, but finds that the specifics of the Blizzard Albany QA team's situation warrant a different course of action. 

"The testers have a separate department and separate supervision; perform a distinct function, utilizing distinct skills; and have notably lower wages than the excluded employees," says the NLRB, meaning the QA team's "community of interests" is sufficiently distinct from the rest of Blizzard Albany's staff to give the greenlight to a smaller, more specific unionisation process. The issue of the QA team's lower pay relative to other Albany staff has been brought up by the NLRB before, and it's hard not to feel that it's a rod Activision made for its own back to some extent.

Even though its requests were denied, Activision did kind of succeed in delaying the unionisation drive a little bit. The votes were originally meant to be tallied on November 18, which eagle-eyed readers will notice was 13 days ago, but that couldn't happen while the NLRB was formulating this decision. In a tweet celebrating the NLRB's ruling, the workers organising the Albany union (under the Game Workers of America Albany banner) said they were currently awaiting a new election date. They also called Activision's petition a "bitter attempt to silence our union," and said they "look forward to the impending ballot count without interruption".

For its part, Activision has yet to comment on the ruling, but I've reached out to the company for comment and will update if I hear back. In the past, Activision has affirmed its respect for the right of employees to unionise, but has repeatedly emphasised that it believes the Albany vote should happen across the entire studio, not just its QA team. Back in mid-October, experts who spoke to the Washington Post described this as a classic technique to water down enthusiasm for unionisation in the voting pool. 

The back-and-forth over Blizzard Albany isn't the only unionisation issue Activision has on its plate at the moment. While this has been going on, the company has been sparring the NLRB over its Raven Software QA team, too. Raven QA staff became the first union at a major US developer in May this year, eventually forcing Activision to cease months of resistance and recognise them in June. Most recently, the NLRB found that Activision had withheld pay increases from unionising Raven staff as an act of "retaliation," which Activision strongly denies. I have to imagine correspondence between NLRB heads and Activision execs has gotten more than a little frosty after all this.

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