Activision Blizzard files motion to delay Blizzard Albany union election

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Following a successful organizing drive, the union vote for quality assurance workers at Blizzard Albany could be delayed due to a new motion filed by the video game development company asking the National Labor Relations Board to impound the ballots until a review is complete.

Amid a growing national labor union movement, NLRB ruled last month that a group of 18 quality assurance workers at the Activision Blizzard Albany studio, which was formerly Vicarious Visions, could vote in a union election. Ballots were mailed out to eligible employees Oct. 27, with the vote count set for Friday  — but it will likely be delayed due to deliberation of the company’s new request. 

In the request for review filed Nov. 1, parent company Blizzard Entertainment claims that quality assurance testers do not share a community of interest and that voting should include each of the 100 full-time employees in the Albany office, which would force a second election. Albany QA tester Amanda Laven said this is the same argument the Albany studio has been receiving for months via corporate emails stating that the  unit is a small percentage of the studio trying to make decisions for the rest of the employees.

Laven, who has worked for three years at the company known for its development of the popular “Diablo” action role-playing games, countered that the QA unit is not making decisions for any other department in the studio and has not bargained for other employee wages or benefits.

“Those remain solely in the hands of the company, and if we’re talking about small groups of people making decisions for the entire company, we have a C-suite full of a handful of people making decisions for tens of thousands of employees,” she said. “It’s really gross to have them frame it this way and to essentially try to turn the studio and the rest of the company against us.”

Blizzard Entertainment also writes in the request that the uniquely integrative nature of video game development is “the opposite of the traditional production processes in which the board’s precedent has been developed.” Unionization among a small unit, as positioned by the company, could potentially disrupt the collaboration needed to develop the Diablo games, including the highly awaited “Diablo IV” set to release sometime next year. 

An additional claim formulated by the California-based company in the request is that a group of employees who joined a company-led virtual hearing with profile pictures reading, “ABK Stop Union Busting” engaged in a digital picket and “created an intimidating environment for Blizzard’s witnesses.”

The video game publisher is asking that the NLRB impound employee ballots in the pending election until the board makes a decision regarding the Request for Review that includes many of the same arguments from the August NLRB hearing that ruled in the QA employees’ favor. 

While Laven believes the NLRB will dismiss the request, she said the company might be successful in what was likely its main goal: to delay the election until Microsoft closes on its nearly $69 billion acquisition of the gaming giant. “We’re theorizing that the company is probably trying to put this off and let it become Microsoft’s problem.”

The union organizing drive in Albany has been a yearlong effort kicked into motion by sexual harassment lawsuits filed in July 2021 and what Laven said was the corporation’s abysmal response to employees who raised concerns about the types of abuses that were allegedly happening within the company.

Another inciting incident was the layoff of 12 QA workers at Raven Software, an Activision-owned studio in Wisconsin, where a group of workers under the name Game Workers Alliance then successfully won their bid to unionize. The Albany division is the second Blizzard Entertainment studio to unionize. 

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