Gaming giant Activision Blizzard illegally retaliated against Raven Software workers who formed a union, the National Labor Relations Board has found.
Raven Software’s quality assurance (QA) department, which mostly works on “Call of Duty,” announced they will form a union in January. Activision Blizzard tried to block the union, arguing that the union only includes the QA department with 28 employees, while in total, Raven Software has about 230 employees. Regardless, Raven Software QA testers, operating under the name Game Workers Alliance (GWA), made history in May when their union voted 19-3. Now, GWA is the first officially recognized association in a major US gaming company.
While GWA was in the process of unionizing, Activision Blizzard converted about 1,100 QA contractors to full-time employees and raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour. But employees at Raven Software, who are among the lowest paid at the studio, refused those pay raises. Activision Blizzard claimed that due to laws under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the company was not allowed to change the pay rate of its workers amid a unionization effort. The Communication Workers of America, which represents the union, said this was a disingenuous attempt to bust unions.
Now, the NLRB has officially ruled in favor of the union, declaring that it was illegal for Activision Blizzard to withhold wages. The implications of this finding will weigh on negotiations for a collective agreement between GWA and Activision Blizzard. Despite formal union recognition, it can often take new unions over a year to reach a contractual agreement with management.
“Despite their best efforts, Activision’s continued efforts to undermine its workers and obstruct our union elections have failed. We are pleased that the NLRB found that Activision acted unlawfully when it unequally enforced the policies by withholding company-wide benefits and wage increases from Raven workers for organizing,” GWA said in an emailed statement.
A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard sent a statement to TechCrunch:
“Due to legal obligations under the NLRA that require employers not to grant wage increases while an election is pending, we could not institute new pay initiatives at Raven because they would be entirely new types of compensation changes that were not planned in advance. This rule that employers should not grant these types of wage increases has been the law for many years.”
Activision Blizzard is also facing scrutiny from the NLRB for filing complaints. Before the union vote, COO Daniel Alegre offered to fly to Wisconsin, where Raven Software is based, to talk to workers about their grievances. But this practice is prohibited by the NLRA because it can lead to coercion.
“This is not an accurate depiction of the facts,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Although Raven QA was offered a non-mandatory opportunity to meet with Activision Blizzard leadership during an on-site visit because some of the QA testers had previously requested a discussion with management, at no point was this framed as an opportunity to specific complaint handling. Furthermore, the offer was never made and no meeting ever took place.”
It’s been a rough few years for Activision Blizzard, even as Microsoft plans to buy the company for a whopping $68.7 billion. After a two-year investigation, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit against Activision Blizzard last summer, alleging the company fostered a “frat boy workplace culture” and “is breeding ground for harassment and discrimination . against women”. Also, CEO Bobby Kotick allegedly knew for years about sexual misconduct and rape allegations at his company, but failed to act on that knowledge. Kotick is rumored to be stepping down amid ongoing SEC investigations and sexual harassment scandals at his company, but that may not happen until after the Microsoft acquisition closes in 2023, if at all.