With only about two weeks to go until the Blizzard Albany QA team's unionisation vote is finally tallied, Activision Blizzard has intervened to delay it. Eligible employees were mailed their union ballots on October 27, but Activision has asked the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to postpone counting the votes until Activision's appeal against an earlier NLRB decision can be considered, per a report by GamesIndustry.biz.
The appeal in question concerns the NLRB's decision that the Blizzard Albany QA team could hold its own union vote. Activision argued that the vote should be held across the entire studio instead of just within the QA staff, but the NLRB rejected the company's argument. Activision would now like the NLRB to take another look at the decision, and to postpone the tally of the QA team vote while it does it.
In essence, Activision's argument all along has been that the QA team is too small to qualify as an independent bargaining unit within the company, and that votes should instead proceed along studio-wide lines. The NLRB's response in October was that QA testers earn substantially lower pay than other members of the studio—about $42,000 compared to a range of $56,000-$175,000—making them a distinct group. As labour experts have pointed out, expanding the voting pool like that would have the likely effect of diluting the overall enthusiasm for unionisation among eligible employees. A convenient side-effect if you're a company trying to thwart a union push.
Activision says that proceeding with the tally could end up prejudicing a later, studio-wide vote that would have to happen if the NLRB accepted its appeal. An Activision spokesperson told GI that, while the company "deeply respect[s]" the rights of its employees to form unions, it also believes "strongly that each of the 107 eligible employees deserves to have their votes counted," rather than just the QA staff.
The response from the Communication Workers of America (CWA)—the union that Blizzard Albany staffers are working with—was fiery. In another statement to GI, the CWA said that "it's no surprise that a company that has repeatedly tried to silence its employees, including by hiding reports of sexual violence, would want to muzzle workers' voices once again." The CWA statement continues by saying that Activision executives "feel threatened" by the unionisation push across the country, and that the CWA is "confident in the NLRB's response to these frivolous requests."
It's unclear when the NLRB will respond to Activision's appeal, but it's going to have to be soon. The tally is scheduled to take place on November 18, which doesn't leave much room for anyone to manoeuvre at this point. If the NLRB's previous decisions are anything to go by, the union might have the upper hand here. The board has already said once that the QA team qualifies as a bargaining unit, and found in October that Activision had withheld raises from unionising staff as an act of "retaliation." Activision's last-minute appeal has the air of a hail Mary about it.