Activision Blizzard is gearing up for a union election. A group of about 28 quality assurance testers at Raven Software, a subsidiary that makes Call of Duty titles in Madison, Wis., have been mailing in ballots to vote in the election before a May 20 deadline.
The National Labor Relations Board has mailed out ballots to quality assurance testers who were with the company during the pay period ending April 16. On May 23, the Milwaukee office of the NLRB will count all the ballots via video conference.
While the number of Raven quality assurance testers has held steady at around 30 employees, the composition of the team has changed over the course of the five-month unionization effort. Twelve contractors were laid off last December. Since then, Activision hired nine testers who are now eligible to vote. This has led to some scrambling on the potential union’s part to recruit the new hires, Raven workers told The Post.
Management at Raven has been sending employees messages and holding meetings about the upcoming election, according to current Raven Software employees. At an April 26 town hall, leadership at Raven suggested that unionization might impede game development and affect promotions and benefits. They sent an email to employees the next day with a graphic attached that read “Please vote no.”
Several Raven employees told The Post that they found management’s anti-union messaging to be disappointing and ineffective, as they still voted yes.
Activision Blizzard said in a company statement that it would review legal options.
“While we respect the NLRB process, we are disappointed that a decision that could significantly impact the future of our entire studio will be made by fewer than 10 percent of our employees,” wrote Activision Blizzard spokesperson Rich George in an April 22 statement to The Post. “We believe a direct relationship with team members is the best path to achieving individual and company goals.”
The unfolding situation has attracted lawmakers’ attention. In February, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) called on Activision CEO Bobby Kotick to stop any union-busting efforts.
On April 19, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) met with Raven workers over a video call to discuss their unionization efforts and labor issues. Matthew Handverger, a spokesperson for Pocan’s office, said that Pocan supports unionization efforts of all industries and wants to ensure businesses follow the rules and avoid union-busting tactics.
In late January, Raven quality assurance testers filed a petition with the NLRB for a union election after parent company Activision Blizzard missed a deadline set by the group to voluntarily recognize the nascent union, named the Game Workers Alliance. Days after the petition was filed, Raven management moved quality assurance testers to different departments across the studio, saying the company was moving toward an “embedded tester model.”
Activision Blizzard contested the filing, arguing that any union at the Wisconsin-based Raven would have to encompass all of the studio’s approximately 230 employees, and that the embedded testing model proved that QA was integrated with other teams. Labor lawyers The Post consulted said that asking for a larger eligible voting group was a strategy aimed at diluting union support. The NLRB’s decision rejected that argument, finding that the set of quality assurance testers was an appropriate bargaining unit.
In the months following the embedded tester model reorganization, Raven quality assurance testers told The Post that their daily job duties have become unclear and inconsistent compared to before when the QA department was its own team.
“Some days we have more to do than we can ever possibly accomplish in a day, and other days we’re sitting around waiting to hear what we should work on,” said a second Raven quality assurance tester, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “We aren’t all on the same page anymore.”
Activision declined to answer questions about the reorganization. It said in a statement that “this is a model that has already proven effective at improving teamwork, collaboration and our ability to react to the needs of our teams. We are still very early in the process but are optimistic about the results as we continue to invest in Raven’s future.”
The company continues to face multiple pending legal complaints and investigations.
Last week, Activision Blizzard was sued by the New York City Employees’ Retirement System and pension funds for firefighters, teachers and police. They are demanding to inspect Activision’s corporate books and records for potential breaches of fiduciary duty, according to a copy of the complaint viewed by The Post. The New York City Law Department, which is handling the litigation, declined to comment.
In a statement, George, the Activision spokesperson, said: “We disagree with the allegations made in this complaint and look forward to presenting our arguments to the Court.”
The company also faces a new NLRB complaint filed in late April from the Communications Workers of America, a union working with Raven employees to help them organize.
In late April, Activision shareholders voted to approve a deal for Microsoft to acquire the company and to approve compensation packages for several company executives, commonly referred to as “golden parachutes.”