Activision accused of illegally firing game testers who opposed a return to office

A major union says Activision retaliated against outspoken workers.

REUTERS/ Mike Blake

Activision Blizzard's return-to-office plans are prompting another labor dispute. The Communications Workers of America (CWA) union has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Activision for the allegedly illegal firings of two quality assurance testers who objected to a hybrid plan that required them to be in the office three days a week by April 10th. Management ostensibly fired the pair for using "strong language" in their opposition, the CWA says, but union Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens characterized the move as "retaliation" against staff who joined co-workers in protected labor activity.

Many employees are balking at the office strategy, the CWA claims. They're reportedly concerned the end to purely remote work will raise the cost of living and force some employees out of their jobs. The NLRB expressly protected the use of harsh language until 2020, when the government loosened standards for firing people over their statements.

In a statement to Engadget, an Activision spokesperson doesn't address the return-to-office effort and maintains that it fired the testers for violating company policy with their language. The game publisher insists that the CWA is "advocating for this type of behavior." We've asked the NLRB for comment.

There's no certainty the charge will succeed. However, it comes after successes for the CWA's fight against Activision. Last May, the NLRB determined there was merit to claims the company illegally threatened staff and stifled social media posts. In October, the board found that Activision withheld raises from testers at Raven Software over their unionization efforts. An in-progress charge asserts the firm surveilled protesters and cut off chat channels used to discuss labor issues. Activision has routinely denied these allegations, arguing that it's honoring the law and internal policy.

Regardless of the claims' validity, the pressure has led to changes for some employees. Activision converted all its contract and part-time testers to full-time status last July, granting them improved pay and benefits. Some teams have also managed to unionize.