In a Tuesday decision, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that a group of 21 quality assurance testers at Blizzard Albany, formerly Vicarious Visions, could vote in a union election.
Labor experts have told The Washington Post that companies often seek to increase the size of the bargaining unit so that chances of a union vote succeeding are lower.
“I’m very happy and excited that we can move forward with voting for our union,” said Amanda Laven, associate test analyst at Blizzard Albany and member of the new bargaining unit. “I hope that Activision Blizzard will set an example for companies everywhere by not engaging in further union busting and by working with us in good faith.”
Back in August, Activision Blizzard’s lawyers framed much of their argument in the Blizzard Albany hearing around the highly anticipated upcoming game “Diablo IV.” The dark fantasy action role-playing game, in which players battle various hellspawn, is slated for release sometime next year.
In the ruling, the NLRB dismissed Activision Blizzard’s lawyers’ argument that quality assurance testers working on different games don’t belong in the same bargaining unit. Five of the testers work on “Diablo II Resurrected,” 15 work on “Diablo IV,” while one works on “World of Warcraft.”
“The difference between ‘Diablo II [Resurrected]’ and ‘Diablo IV’ is one of assignment that has minimal to no impact on the community of interest among associate test analysts,” the board’s regional director, Linda Leslie, wrote.
The NLRB notes that associate test analysts working on Diablo are paid $20.19 an hour, which adds up to a yearly salary of $41,995 if employees worked a full year with no weeks off. Meanwhile, employees in other departments earn $56,250 to $175,050, with designers earning the most. The low pay of testers helped differentiate the group from the rest of the employees at Blizzard Albany working on “Diablo IV,” according to the NLRB’s decision.
“While we respect the NLRB process, we strongly disagree that a decision that could significantly impact the future of the entire Albany-based Diablo team should be made by just a handful of employees,” said Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George in a statement. “Given our tightly integrated operations in Albany, all of our eligible nonsupervisory employees there should have a voice and be allowed to vote, not just the approximately 20 quality assurance testers picked by the union.”
On Tuesday evening, newly minted Chief Communications Officer Lulu Cheng Meservey messaged Activision Blizzard employees on the platform Slack that collective bargaining was time-consuming, and that it prevented companies from giving pay increases without a special arrangement with the union, according to messages viewed by The Post. Meservey joined the company’s senior leadership team earlier this month.
Most employees did not have permissions to post a response to the Slack channel, so they downvoted her message instead. Hours later, Meservey replied to her own message in Slack, “I can hear the booing from here! And have registered the disappointed dog emojis … Totally get that a lot of people don’t love hearing from this side on the unionization issue.”
The NLRB will mail out ballots to eligible employees Oct. 27. Voters in that group must return their ballots by close of business on Nov. 17. The ballot count will take place via video conference Nov. 18.
“It’s about time,” said a current Blizzard Albany employee who is not a quality assurance tester. She spoke on the condition of anonymity as she wasn’t authorized to speak to media. “Our QA testers are some of the most talented and skilled people working in our company, and they are critically undervalued by corporate. I think that all games workers need a union, but QA is in especially dire need.”
Microsoft is purchasing Activision Blizzard for nearly $69 billion in an all-cash deal, pending regulatory approval. The Xbox and Windows maker previously said in June it would respect the rights of Activision Blizzard workers to join a union.
Blizzard Albany is the second Activision Blizzard studio that has attempted to unionize at the company, which is facing multiple investigations over sexual harassment. Known for its work on franchises including Guitar Hero and Crash Bandicoot under its former name, Vicarious Visions, the studio officially merged with Activision Blizzard in April to become Blizzard Albany. The studio’s quality assurance department there took cues for its organizing campaign from Raven Software, another Activision-owned studio in Madison, Wis., where on May 28, a group of QA testers under the name Game Workers Alliance won their bid to unionize. They are currently undergoing bargaining efforts for a contract.
“I think that the people who said the [Game Workers Alliance] would serve as the spark for a new labor movement in games are being proven correct,” said a second current Blizzard Albany employee who is not a quality assurance tester and who spoke on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to media. “I hope this win helps to spread that energy.”