Microsoft QA Contractors Say They Were Laid Off for Attempting to Unionize

Microsoft, which subcontracts the quality assurance provider, has a standing labor neutrality agreement with the Communications Workers of America.
Microsoft QA Contractors Say They Were Laid Off for Attempting to Unionize
Photo by Lumière Rezaie on Unsplash

A quality assurance game testing company contracted by Microsoft’s Activision laid off an entire team of workers because they began organizing, according to an unfair labor practice charge filed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) on Monday. The charge alleges that the team was working on a game for Microsoft, which maintains a labor neutrality agreement with the CWA. 

The charge states that on April 18, the QA-testing company, Lionbridge Technologies, “terminated the employment of substantially all of the approximately 160 employees working at its Boise, ID, worksite. This termination was motivated by employees’ union and other protected activity.” The union also stated in a press release that Lionbridge has a “documented union-busting track record,” noting that in 2016, it laid off all its union employees just two months after finalizing its first contract with them. 

“Workers brought their concerns to management and organized with our coworkers to improve our working conditions,” said Beth Allen, a spokesperson for CWA. “In response to these complaints, Lionbridge chose to lay off the entire team, in violation of our rights as workers.” 

Lionbridge told workers that the layoffs were due to the fact that their project had ended, the CWA stated in a press release. “However, other teams working on the same project in Mexico and Poland continue to work,” the union said. Lionbridge did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft’s Activision, which subcontracted the Lionbridge workers through the company, is not named in the unfair labor practice charge, but also has a history of anti-union activity. Before Microsoft finalized its acquisition of the company last year, workers accused Activision and its sister studio Blizzard Entertainment of intimidation and other coercive union-busting tactics. Notably, Microsoft has a standing labor neutrality agreement with the CWA, and has honored that agreement in the past. For example, the QA department of Microsoft’s ZeniMax studios formed the biggest union in video game history in 2023—last week, Microsoft and the CWA extended the labor neutrality agreement to cover all ZeniMax workers. 

Neither Activision nor Microsoft immediately responded to requests for comment regarding the Lionbridge layoffs. However, the union said in its press release that it expected Microsoft to “hold its contractors to the same standards the company has set for itself as stated in its principles.”

The Lionbridge layoffs come during a huge wave of layoffs across the video game industry, during which around 6,400 workers lost their jobs in 2023 and 2024, including 1,900 Activision Blizzard and Xbox employees in January.

The unfair labor practice charge filed Monday also alleges that Lionbridge offered workers severance agreements with terms that are illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. The press release said that these agreements included requirements “to agree to overly broad confidentiality terms,” which the National Labor Relations Board ruled unlawful last year

“They do much the same work that union-represented Activision QA employees do, and Microsoft should make sure that everyone working on its games is treated with respect in line with its labor principles, including employees of contractors,” Allen said in a statement.

Update: A press release from CWA originally attributed a quote we included in this article to a former Lionbridge worker affected by the layoffs. CWA said that this was an error and that the quote came from spokesperson Beth Allen. This article has been update to reflect this.