Why Activision-Blizzard’s pay rise for QA testers isn’t the win it was hoping for

On April 7, Activision-Blizzard tried to pull off a sleight of hand. he sent a statement that many QA testers were becoming full-time employees and getting pay raises; however, the company has decided not to disclose important information regarding the QA testers that would be included. It wasn’t until hours later that the full truth came out, leading to harsh criticism from the Communication Workers of America and highlighting the ongoing legal battles between Activision-Blizzard and the push from a group of Raven Software employees trying to form the company’s first union.

How Activision Blizzard’s pay raises quickly turned sour

Activision-Blizzard had sent out a press release promising that all temporary and contingent QA (quality assurance) workers would become full-time employees with a higher base salary of $20 per hour. For many freelancers and independent contractors, it’s a dream – to get a steady job with a higher salary, a better title for a resume, and the perks of being a full-time employee at a big, well-known company. According to the corresponding statement made by Jessica Taylor, vice president of corporate communications for Activision-Blizzard, this would impact more than a thousand testers in its workforce starting July 1, with a salary increase of $20/hour starting April 17.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, many welcomed the good news. QA testers tend to be unfairly treated as unskilled workers in the video game industry, the lowest in the hierarchy of game development. They often face periods of intense crisis while accepting low pay in a system that treats them as expendable and replaceable. As such, many outlets reported on the press release, publishing the company’s statement in full, without much added pressure.

Some have acknowledged that the pay rise comes at a time when Activision-Blizzard is facing internal pressure from Raven Software, the developer responsible for many of Activision’s Call of Duty games over the past two decades. Since early December, QA workers at Raven Software have been on strike after being denied new contracts by Activision Blizzard at that time, and since then the publisher has yet to recognize the union. .

So the QA workers went elsewhere and formed the Game Workers Alliance which demanded union recognition by the Communication Workers of Americas (CWA). According to a CWA representative who spoke with Polygon, the Game Workers Alliance has 78% support from the “supermajority” of Raven Software’s QA team. And so, it looks like all of this pressure has finally reached a point where Activision Blizzard was tricked into sending out the statement they made. It was supposed to be a win.

However, just hours after the statement was released, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier (in the tweet above) received an email response from Activision Blizzard noting that the pay raise would not include QA testers. from Raven Software. There was the trap. Brian Raffel, Raven Software’s head of studio, released a statement saying this couldn’t happen due to legal restrictions: Raven at this time. But is it really true?

Why Activision-Blizzard is being accused of union busting tactics

Since Activision Blizzard didn’t mention that Raven Software’s QA testers wouldn’t be included in the pay raises initially and seemed well prepared in their response as to why they were left out, it is clear to some that the wage increases are meant to be an anti-union political tactic disguised as goodwill. From the perspective of the Game Workers Alliance, this wouldn’t be the first time the company has attempted to contain and control its influence, as Activision-Blizzard decided to split the QA team into different departments within days. only after the creation of the GWA.

To form Activision Blizzard’s first union, the Game Workers Alliance must currently seek a vote overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, after which the union will be recognized if it receives a majority vote. Excluding Raven Software’s QA team from these company-wide raises could intimidate workers into voting the other way and prevent other Activision Blizzard QA workers from supporting this union effort, according to CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens, who shares in a statement:

“It is particularly infuriating that Activision has excluded Raven Software’s quality assurance workers, who have been at the forefront of this effort, of these benefits. The company’s claim that national labor relations law prevents them from including Raven workers is clearly an effort to divide workers and undermine their efforts to form a union. Activision’s dishonest announcement is further proof of the need for workers to have a protected voice at work.

Activision spokesman Rich George countered by saying the company was simply following the letter of the law:

“The union’s assertion is both erroneous and misleading. It is well known that during an election petition period, the law prevents an employer from extending new types of benefits to employees who are going to vote… The CWA criticizes us for trying to comply with the law by claiming that the law does not does not. to exist.”

On closer examination of the law cited by Activision (specifically, Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act), the company would be in violation for “deliberately granting wage increases programmed to discourage employees from forming or joining a trade union”. .” So the reasoning is that giving Raven Software QA testers the pay raises would seem illegal, although giving all other non-Raven QA testers raises seems to circumvent the legal technicality.

On the other hand, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) provides examples of what constitutes an unfair labor practice in violation of this law. One is a company trying to “give benefits to employees in a labor organizing campaign to get employees to vote against the union”. Another is more relevant to what a company cannot do:

“Withhold changes to wages or benefits during an organizing drive that would have been made had the union not been on the scene, unless you make it clear to employees that the change will occur, that they choose the union or not, and that your sole purpose in postponing the change is to avoid any appearance of trying to influence the outcome of the election.

It’s unclear whether Activision-Blizzard has made it clear to the Game Workers Alliance that the next pay raise for all Raven Software QA testers will eventually be granted regardless of the union’s vote. That’s doubtful, though, given the CWA’s response.

Was the omission deliberate or not?

That said, Activision Blizzard probably doesn’t want to talk about legal issues and give lawyer answers, given that the sexual harassment lawsuit filed by the EEOC was only settled last week. He still faces a slew of other lawsuits, including another sexual harassment lawsuit, an investor lawsuit, a shareholder lawsuit over Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard, and a lawsuit brought by parents who think that their daughter committed suicide because of sexual harassment. The pay raises had to be presented as something positive amid, well, mostly everything that was going on in the company.

Unfortunately, it’s now clear that Activision Blizzard wanted to completely ignore Raven Software’s issue, while preparing a statement in case it needed to explain the situation. In order to appear to announce good news, which would distract from all the other legal cases the company is facing, she wanted the salary increases to be reported without anyone digging too deep. Therefore, not mentioning Raven Software’s QA testers upfront sounds like a tactful lie of omission, and no one likes to be misled.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent MP1st and its staff.