Activision Blizzard faces unfair labor practices complaint over staff unionization efforts

The Communications Workers of America has filed the complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Daniel Boczarski via Getty Images

The Communications Workers of America has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Activision Blizzard, accusing the company of retaliating against workers over their unionization efforts. If you'll recall, the quality assurance workers at the Activision studio Raven Software announced their plans to unionize in January. That's after Activision cut 12 of its QA contractors despite, according to a Washington Post report from January, Raven departmental management asking for those workers to be kept on. Workers at the studio went on strike following the event, demanding that all contractors be hired as full-time employees.

In its complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the CWA accused the company of violating federal law by terminating those QA workers. The group also pointed out that Activision reorganized the studio by disbanding the QA team and embedding testers in other departments just mere days after they requested union recognition. In addition, Activision Blizzard allegedly withheld pays and benefits in April in response to the workers' unionization efforts.

According to previous reports, the company also actively and strongly discouraged workers from voting to unionize. Union organizer Jessica Gonzalez revealed on Twitter back in January that Activision VP of QA Chris Arends posted a message on a locked Slack channel diminishing the benefits of unionization. "A union doesn't do anything to help us produce world-class games, and the bargaining process is not typically quick, often reduces flexibility, and can be adversarial and lead to negative publicity," Arends wrote.

A piece by The Washington Post also said that company leadership held town meetings to dissuade workers from organizing and sent out emails with a message that says "Please vote no." Those efforts had failed, and CWA won the election to unionize at Raven with a vote of 19 to 3. Xbox head Phil Spencer reportedly said before the vote that he would recognize a Raven union once Microsoft's acquisition of the developer is complete.

Game Workers Alliance/CWA organizing committee members Erin Hall, Lau Nebel-Malone and Marie Carroll said:

"The reorganization and withholding of pay raises and other benefits and the company's failure to rehire laid off QA testers were clearly attempts by Activision to intimidate us and interfere with our union election in violation of the National Labor Relations Act."

Meanwhile, an Activision spokesperson disputed the allegations in a statement sent to Bloomberg:

"We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union, and retaliation of any kind is not tolerated."

As the news organization notes, complaints filed with the NLRB are investigation by regional offices. In case they're found to have merit and aren't settled, they can be prosecuted by the agency's general counsel.

Update, 6/6/22, 10AM ET: This story has been updated with additional citations for the claim that Activision Blizzard cut 12 QA contractors despite Raven departmental leadership requesting to keep those contractors employed.