Activision supplier laid off 160 video game testers in Boise. They allege retaliation (2024)

More than 150 video game testers who worked at Lionbridge in Boise were laid off in April. The workers say they were fired in retaliation for trying to unionize.

Lionbridge employees test and provide feedback on some of the most-anticipated video games long before they’re released to the public. The company has testing sites in Boise; Mexico City; and Warsaw, Poland.

The 160-person team Lionbridge laid off in Boise on April 18 provided quality assurance services to Activision, a Microsoft subsidiary and leading developer, publisher and distributor of video games, including the Call of Duty franchise.

Labor union files charges

Communications Workers of America, a national labor union, filed unfair labor practice charges against Lionbridge with the National Labor Relations Board on June 10, alleging the workers were fired for raising issues regarding their working conditions and “engaging in protected organizing activities,” according to a news release.

Lionbridge offered the employees a severance package that required them to agree to “overly broad” confidentiality terms and to waive rights safeguarded by the National Labor Relations Act, the union said.

Lionbridge did not respond to multiple calls and emails requesting comment.

One worker who was laid off, Al Bussabarger, told the Idaho Statesman that his team was told the reason for termination was that the project they were working on had ended. But other teams engaged in the same project in Mexico City and Warsaw continue to work, the union said.

Bussabarger said he did not accept the severance package.

Some workers made $14 an hour

As a test associate working the night shift, Bussabarger made $15 an hour. Other employees who worked the day shift made less, starting at $14 an hour, he said.

“Other, similar job roles paid more money,” he said by phone. “So we thought we were entitled to more for the work we did. We were also fed up with the attendance and paid-time-off policies, which were getting radically changed.”

Bussabarger said a number of employees on the team were classified as “temporary,” including some who had been there for years. Those employees did not receive health care or retirement benefits.

The employees worked in person at Lionbridge’s office at 5777 N. Meeker Ave. in Boise. Bussabarger declined to discuss certain aspects of the job, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

Activision supplier laid off 160 video game testers in Boise. They allege retaliation (1)

The team that was laid off was the largest at Lionbridge’s Boise site; its members worked on what Bussabarger called “the big project.” More than 100 people assigned to other projects still work at the site, he said.

He recalled a projectwide meeting that occurred a few weeks before the layoffs, at which employees on his team voiced concerns about their working conditions. Not long after, corporate executives visited the Boise office, inquiring with project managers as to whether there was union activity or support, he said.

“Our site was specifically shouted out multiple times by our client because we were picking up slack from the other sites and doing a really good job,” he said. “We had higher ratings. So, it seemed very abrupt.”

Former worker cites ‘longstanding battle’

Jaymz Joiner, who was also laid off, started working at Lionbridge as a temporary employee in July 2022. They were promoted a few months later to senior test engineer and became a full-time employee. Joiner was promoted again last September, to quality assurance test lead, where they oversaw two teams on the day shift and night shift.

Joiner told the Statesman employees would bring complaints to them and they would try to help resolve the issues with upper management. Joiner cited poor pay, and a lack of communication and transparency as major issues.

“This has been a longstanding battle for us,” Joiner said by phone. “Back when I started, we had tried to unionize.”

The day before they were laid off, workers were told not to come in the following day because of scheduled server maintenance, Joiner and Bussabarger said. They were emailed a phone number that they were supposed to call to learn whether they could come in, but when they called that number, they were given an automated message telling them they’d been laid off, they said.

The company then sent them emails with details about the severance package.

After the layoffs, Joiner created a Discord group to chat with other workers who had been affected. The group grew to around 100 members, and they started helping each other find new jobs. There was also a second Discord group that Joiner found out about and joined after the layoffs; in that group workers had been discussing efforts to unionize, Joiner said.

“I cared about a lot of these people,” Joiner said. “We came together as sort of a small community to help each other out. And we would discuss what happened. Their official reason for laying us off was that it was the end of a temporary project. But we all knew that didn’t seem right.”

Labor union alleges history of union-busting

It’s not the first time Lionbridge has been accused of firing workers over union activity.

In 2016, Lionbridge laid off members of a union in Bellevue, Washington, about two months after they completed their first contract, GeekWire reported. That team had also provided subcontracted labor to Microsoft. The Communications Workers of America said in its news release on the Boise Lionbridge layoffs that it expects Microsoft to hold its contractors to the same standards the company sets for itself.

Though the Boise team was working to unionize, it had not officially done so.

“We brought our concerns to management and organized with our co-workers to improve our working conditions,” Bussabarger said. “In response to these complaints, Lionbridge chose to lay off our entire team, in violation of our rights as workers.”

The company did not file a worker adjustment and retraining notification, or WARN, which the U.S. Department of Labor requires if at least 50 full-time employees in an operating unit are affected.

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Activision supplier laid off 160 video game testers in Boise. They allege retaliation (2024)
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