Activision Blizzard withheld raises to retaliate against unionising staff, US Labor Relations Board finds

Activision Games office.
(Image credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty)

The USA's National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found that Activision Blizzard withheld pay raises from Raven Software quality assurance staff because of their union organising activity, the Washington Post reports.

Non-Raven QA staff at Activision Blizzard were offered a suite of improvements to their working conditions in April this year. QA contract workers—a group of about 1,100 people—became full-time employees, receiving full company benefits and a pay bump that put them on $20 an hour. Raven staff were not included in this sweeping upgrade, however, which the NLRB now regards as retaliation for their union organising activities.

The finding comes right in the middle of union contract negotiations between Activision and QA testers at Raven. QA staff at Raven voted 19-3 to form a union back in May this year, becoming the first union to form at a major North American game developer in the process. After initial hostility to the bid, Activision changed course, opting to recognise and negotiate with Raven staff instead.

An Activision spokesperson told the Post that it was precisely this vote that stopped the company from offering pay increases to involved employees. Activision said that, "Due to legal obligations [...] requiring employers not to grant wage increases while an election was pending," the company was unable to offer "new pay initiatives at Raven because they would be brand new kinds of compensation changes" of the kind prohibited in the run-up to a union vote.

PCG has also reached out to Activision about the NLRB findings, and will update if we hear back.

In the short-term, the NLRB finding is more ammo for the arsenal of Raven's negotiators. Wilma Liebman, former NLRB chair, told the Post that the Board's findings are a "very preliminary win" for the QA staff, who can use it as leverage in their back-and-forth with Activision.

In the longer term, Activision told the Post that it would be defending itself against the findings during the NLRB's litigation process and would, if necessary, defend itself in the appeals court too.

This is all of course happening in the context of Microsoft's proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard, a deal worth a whopping $68 billion that is under intense regulatory scrutiny from various countries (apart from Saudi Arabia which, as part of its unwelcome push into games, rushed its approval through). Activision Blizzard's culture and significant prior failings have been under the spotlight as part of this and it says something that, once again, its past behaviour has attracted this kind of legal attention from a government agency.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.