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Activision Blizzard is making over a thousand QA contractors full-time employees

Update: Activision Blizzard's pay increases for QA employees will not apply to workers trying to unionize at Raven Software.

Activision Blizzard has announced that approximately 1,100 QA contractors are being converted to full-time roles, following a turbulent year that both saw contractors speaking out about poor working conditions at the company and a unionization push by QA workers at subsidiary studio Raven Software.

According to an Activision Blizzard spokesperson, both Activision Publishing and Blizzard Entertainment are at the heart of this push. All QA contractors in the United States will be converted to full-time status, and the minimum hourly rate for these roles will be increased to $20/hour.

New employees will also be eligible to receive company benefits and participate in the company's bonus plan.

A statement from the company says that the move is part of a plan to bring "more content to players across our franchises than ever before."

Activision Publishing chief operating officer Josh Taub explained to employees in an email that the teams working on Call of Duty may still experience periods where they needs extra support for quality assurance. To accommodate these periods, he says the studio does plan to bring in "more support" from "external partners."

Head of Blizzard Entertainment Mike Ybarra also e-mailed employees to share the news. He also said that he's spent the last six months speaking with QA employees to outline his philosophy about contract versus full-time roles. 

"I want to thank everyone who helped educate me and expressed their views on how we can make Blizzard the best player-focused game studio," he added. "We all know QA is integral to our success in ensuring the best possible gameplay experiences."

This is very good news for QA workers at the company, who have long toiled for low-pay, long hours, and the threat of sudden layoffs. Said workers also deserve credit for putting pressure on company leadership to make this happen, both by speaking out to Kotaku and beginning a unionization effort for QA workers.

There are some underlying frustrations that come with this news. First, there's the fact that the effort to convert temporary workers to full-time employees came with the layoffs of several Raven Software QA employees, many of whom had been promised that their contracts were secure.

Second, this might make it very difficult for Raven's budding QA union to achieve formal recognition from the NLRB. Activision Blizzard has disputed the scope of the union's bargaining group, and it's quite likely this news will have a concrete change on the size of said unit.

All of this news is once again informed by Microsoft's ongoing effort to acquire Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion, as well as still-simmering anger over allegations of a culture of sexual harassment, toxicity, and abuse that began with a lawsuit from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

At the very least, this move might help with Activision Blizzard's struggle to attract and retain workers. It is indeed easier to retain employees if they are being paid enough to stay at the company. 

Update 4/7: Activision Blizzard has confirmed that the promised raises for QA employees will not be eligible for employees attempting to unionize at Raven Software.

In an e-mail sent to Raven employees, studio head Brian Raffel explained that it could not offer them the new wages due to NLRB guidelines for the unionizing process. "Due to our legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act, we are prohibited from making new kinds of compensation changes at Raven at this time," he wrote.

Raven Software's entirely full-time QA workforce apparently already benefitted from much of the news today, but it's incredibly sour to learn that employees seeking to unionize will not receive the same benefits. This would be the second time that Activision Blizzard has enacted sweeping changes for the benefit of many temporary employees, while leaving some out to dry.

It does seem likely that Activision Blizzard's legal argument here would hold water. The company is citing a Supreme Court decision that ruled compensation increases can be interpreted as undue influence in the unionizing process (via Kotaku's Ethan Gach).

We checked in with USC Gould School of Law Lecturer Thomas Lenz, who previously worked as a National Labor Relations Board attorney. Though he couldn't comment on the specifics of this case, he did explain that implementing compensation changes in the midst of a unionization is "very complex."

Lenz explained that there are a number of reasons why an employer giving raises to unionizing employees might be viewed as undue influence, and that most employers choose the path of caution when in situations similar to Activision Blizzard's. He added that there are circumstances where withholding pay increases to unionizing employees could be viewed as retaliatory, but it would require documentation of previously promised increases or regular increases being withheld. 

That might be tough to prove here, since today's announcement of pay increases is not a regular practice.

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