Diablo Devs Say Activision Back To Its Old Union-Busting Tricks

Diablo IV's Lilith prepares to argue her case before the NLRB.

Image: Blizzard

Nearly two months after Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick announced the company would finally begin bargaining its first union contract with the Game Workers Alliance at Raven Software, staff at Blizzard Albany, currently working on Diablo IV, say the publisher is back to trying to union-bust. They accuse Activision Blizzard of rehiring the law firm Reed Smith to undermine their own organizing effort rather than voluntarily recognize the company’s second union.

“Instead of following Microsoft’s lead and committing to a labor neutrality agreement, Activision has made the clear and conscious decision to deny us our basic labor rights while once again spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a union-busting firm,” Albany Game Workers Alliance, which is organizing for things like better pay, healthcare, and work/life balance, among other issues, wrote in a press release Wednesday. The group says Activision Blizzard is re-enlisting the help of Reed Smith, an organization that offers “union-avoidance” services, in a “futile effort” to “delay recognition.” As the workers tell it, Reed Smith intends to urge the National Labor Relations Board to deny the individual QA group’s right to unionize.

When asked for comment, the Call of Duty publisher didn’t say why it had rehired the law firm Reed Smith or how much it was paying, but it did confirm it would once again push for a studio-wide vote on unionization. “Given the significant impact this change could have for roughly 150 people in Albany (formerly Vicarious Visions), we believe every employee in Albany who works on Diablo should have a direct say in this decision; it should not be made by fewer than 15% of employees,” company spokesman Rich George wrote in an emailed statement.

It went on:

The team based out of the Albany location is an integrated group that shares a focus on the same game franchise and works on related game features and functionality. These employees share significant commonalities in their work and maintaining cohesiveness throughout the complex game development and production process is essential.

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A screenshot of an old Reed Smith presentation previews tactics for discouraging unionization.

Screenshot: Reed Smith

This is the same playbook the company rolled out last time when Raven Software first sought to unionize. First it integrated QA staff directly into other disciplines within the wider studio and later it argued that for this and other reasons the entire studio should vote on a union rather than just those in QA who already overwhelmingly supported it. Ultimately the NLRB sided with the workers, but it still delayed proceedings by months.

In the meantime, Activision Blizzard worked with Reed Smith, an international firm that boasted on its website at the time of helping companies avoid and fight unionization. It even kept a PowerPoint Presentation on its website that included slides about how unions sought to exploit lazy workers and strategies for persuading workers that unions were a bad idea. That presentation has since been removed.

Activision Blizzard’s renewed fight against unionization comes just two months after Microsoft, currently set to acquire it for $69 billion, announced it would remain “neutral” on union efforts moving forward. Part of a campaign to get regulatory approval for the biggest tech acquisition in history, it seemed like it might signal a new playbook for Activision as well. Apparently not. The deal is expected to close before June 2023.



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