Gaming giant Activision Blizzard unlawfully retaliated against Raven Software employees who unionized, the National Labor Relations Board found.
The Quality Assurance (QA) department of subsidiary Raven Software, which mainly works on ‘Call of Duty’, announced in January that it would form a union. Activision Blizzard tried to block the union, reasoning that the union only includes the QA department of 28 employees, while Raven Software as a whole has about 230 employees. Anyway, the Raven Software QA testers, operating under the name Game Workers Alliance (GWA), made history in May when their union vote passed 19-3. Now the GWA is the first officially recognized union at a major US gaming company.
While the GWA was busy with unions, Activision Blizzard converted about 1,100 QA contractors to full-time staffers and raised the minimum wage to $20 an hour. But employees at Raven Software, who belong to the lowest paid in the studio, these pay increases were denied. Activision Blizzard claimed that laws under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prevented the company from changing its employees’ pay amid a union effort. The Communication Workers of America, which represents the union, said this was an unfair attempt to break unions.
Now, the NLRB has officially ruled in favor of the union, declaring it illegal for Activision Blizzard to withhold wages. The ramifications of this finding will weigh in on collective bargaining negotiations between the GWA and Activision Blizzard. Despite formally winning union recognition, new unions are often needed more than a year before entering into a contractual agreement with management.
“Despite their best efforts, Activision’s continued efforts to undermine the workers and hinder our union elections have failed. We are pleased that the NLRB has acknowledged that Activision acted illegally when they unequally enforced the policy by withholding company-wide benefits and pay increases from Raven employees for organizing,” the GWA said in an emailed statement.
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson emailed a statement to londonbusinessblog.com:
“Due to legal obligations under the NLRA requiring employers not to grant pay increases while an election was underway, we at Raven were unable to initiate new pay initiatives because they would be brand new types of pay changes, which were not planned in advance. This rule that employers are not allowed to grant these kinds of pay increases has been the law for years.”
Activision Blizzard is also under investigation by the NLRB for filing grievances. Prior to the union vote, COO Daniel Alegre offered to fly to Wisconsin, where Raven Software is based, to talk to employees about their complaints. But this practice is banned by the NLRA because it can lead to coercion.
“This is not an accurate representation of events,” the company spokesperson told londonbusinessblog.com. “While Raven QA was given a non-mandatory opportunity to meet Activision Blizzard’s leadership during an on-site visit, as some QA testers had previously requested an interview with management, at no time was this presented as a opportunity to make specific grievances. In addition, the offer was never accepted and a meeting never took place.”
It’s been a rough few years for Activision Blizzard, though Microsoft plans to buy the company for a whopping $68.7 billion. After a two-year investigation, the State of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit to Activision Blizzard last summer, claiming the company fostered a “frat boy” work culture and is “a breeding ground for harassment and discrimination against women.” Also CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly knew it for years about sexual misconduct and rape allegations in his company, but he did not act on that knowledge. Kotick has been rumors of resignation amid ongoing SEC investigations and sexual harassment scandals in his business, but that can only happen after the acquisition of Microsoft closes in 2023if it is.