The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has denied Activision Blizzard’s attempt to invalidate a unionization vote by the Quality Assurance department at the studio Blizzard Albany. Activision Blizzard had appealed to the NLRB to impound the QA team’s votes so they could instead enforce a studio-wide election. The union claims that 94% of the department had committed to a “Yes” for unionization, meaning they expect to win once the ballots are counted.
In October the NLRB approved Blizzard Albany QA’s request for a union election. Blizzard Albany, formerly known as Vicarious Visions, worked on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 and the Skylanders series.
QA workers at Raven Software, another Activision Blizzard subsidiary, recently voted in favor of unionization, and the company had attempted to enforce a studio-wide vote in this case as well. According to labor experts interviewed by the Washington Post, companies like Activision will often increase the size of a bargaining unit to lower the chance of a successful union vote. QA workers are notoriously underpaid compared to other facets of game development, earning well under company averages.
The NLRB explained why they denied Activision Blizzard’s appeal in the following statement: “We acknowledge that game design requires an extraordinary degree of functional integration and contact among departments, which weighs in favor of a combined unit. However, we find that these considerations are outweighed by other community-of-interest factors. 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.”
In a statement to GamesIndustry.biz, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson justified their move to impound the Albany QA union vote: “We still believe our entire Albany team should have the right to vote. This is about fundamental fairness for every member of the team, given the close, collaborative way that Blizzard Albany operates, and ensuring that every employee has the right to choose.”
This statement follows an internal message sent last year by Brian Bulatao, the chief administrative officer at the company and a former Trump administration official, who implicitly discouraged employees at the company from unionizing by writing they needed to “consider the consequences” of this act.
Despite the sales breaking records of Activision Blizzard’s recently released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, they continue to stall union negotiations with QA workers at Raven Software.