NLRB puts down Activision’s attempt to stop another union • The Register

Video game maker Activision-Blizzard’s attempt to block a second batch of quality assurance workers from unionizing was crushed by the National Labor Relations Board, paving the way for an organizing vote at the company’s Albany, New York offices.

The NLRB had given Albany QA workers the green light to unionize back in October, but the shop quickly appealed, arguing that quality assurance testers were too integrated with other groups to be considered an independent bargaining entity.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s very similar to the same line of reasoning Activision-Blizzard attempted when QA staffers at its Raven Software subsidiary were trying to organize earlier this year. QA people are built in, and there aren’t many of them. A union would therefore disadvantage other workers.

The NLRB also denied the game manufacturer’s motions in this case, and those employees conducted a successful organizing vote in May.

In its petition opposing Albany’s decision, Activision-Blizzard asked the NLRB to confiscate ballots for the union vote scheduled for late October. The NLRB’s Review Board said yesterday in its final decision that “the employer’s request for a review of the regional director’s decision and election direction is denied because it does not raise substantive issues warranting a review.”

“We are still waiting for our new election date, but we look forward without interruption to the upcoming ballot count,” according to the Game Workers Alliance Albany Twitter account said after the decision. “Management’s desperate attempt to silence our union has failed.”

Activision’s arguments fall short

Blizzard made a number of arguments in its appeal to the NLRB, from the aforementioned integration of QA testers with people from other teams (like developers, artists, etc.) to a small 18-person union with outsized power over others Staff added the argument that there was no NLRB precedent for the video game industry.

“The process of creating a video game is in many ways the opposite of the traditional production processes in which board precedent was developed,” Blizzard argued.

Unfortunately for the Call of Duty publisher, the NLRB didn’t see the arguments as valid.

Regarding staff engagement, the NLRB agreed that “functional groups” of staff with different responsibilities are an important part of game design, but that the QA staff’s involvement with other team members was still outweighed by other factors that made them stronger made it important to give them bargaining power.

“The testers have a separate department and supervision, perform a different function, use different skills and have significantly lower wages than the excluded employees,” the board said in its decision.

Notably, the developers working in the Albany office are mainly tasked with Diablo-related projects, as are the QA testers. However, developers, artists, and designers all report to Diablo’s general manager, while QA testers report to a larger corporate body. From the point of view of the NLRB, this means “these characteristic groups [don’t] form the primary administrative structure of the employer.”

Regarding the issue of precedent, the board said no one objected to the use of precedent outside of the gaming industry in a 2019 NLRB case against Boeing, so too bad.

Union efforts are just part of the conflict Activision and Blizzard face as it attempts to negotiate a $69 billion sale to Microsoft, which is currently under investigation by the European Commission as an antitrust violation.

Activision-Blizzard is reportedly on the verge of offering concessions to the EC to smooth the deal and stave off formal objections. ® NLRB puts down Activision’s attempt to stop another union • The Register

Rick Schindler

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