A new labor complaint has been filed with the National Labor Relations Board against Nintendo and contract hiring agency Aston Carter. The second complaint this year, it accuses the Mario publisher of interfering with “concerted activities” of workers, including possible retaliation and coercion. It comes months after dozens of current and former employees complained about exploitative working conditions at Nintendo of America. (Update: The worker recently came forward and claims that they were fired after asking about NoA’s stance on labor unions.)
As first reported by Axios, the complaint was filed on August 7 against Nintendo and Aston Carter as joint employers. The allegations listed include “concerted activities (retaliation, discharge, discipline)“ and “coercive rules.” While vague, both pertain to Section 7 and Section 8(a)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act. The first part ensures workers’ right to unionize or self-organize for “mutual aid and protection.” The second part makes it illegal for companies to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” from exercising those rights.
Nintendo and Aston Carter were accused of labor violations back in April as well. The public complaint included allegations of coercion, surveillance, and retaliation. Four sources familiar with the incident told Kotaku it directly stemmed from a contract employee asking a question about unions at a meeting and later being fired over a seemingly borderline violation of their NDA. Nintendo said in a statement at the time that there were no “attempts to unionize or related activity,” and that the employee had been terminated for disclosing confidential information “and for no other reason.”
If you’re familiar with the allegations against Nintendo, or have your own story about working there, my inbox is always open: email@example.com (Signal and Proton upon request).
However, it sparked an outpouring of testimonials on social media by former Nintendo of America employees, and multiple reports about problematic working conditions at the company. Dozens of current and former employees told Kotaku that Nintendo of America was overwhelmingly staffed with contract employees who were given raw deals and treated like second-class citizens. In addition to bad pay, months with no work, and worse healthcare options, these testers, localizers, and customer service reps were also prohibited from participating in many corporate events or even walking the halls of the main headquarters building.
Nintendo and Aston Carter have not responded to Kotaku or other outlets’ reports about these issues, and did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this latest allegation. When Kotaku’s initial report was published in April, Nintendo of America President, Doug Bowser, posted a message internally to employees saying the executive leadership team was reviewing the allegations and that the company had a “zero-tolerance” policy for discrimination, harassment, or intimidation. However, two current employees said little has changed in the months since.
When asked about the complaints, many of which went back years, Reggie Fils-Aime said they didn’t reflect the Nintendo he remembered leaving back in 2019. The former long-time President of the North American branch also said in an interview with the Washington Post in May that companies should “embrace” unions if that’s what their employees want.
Both of the NLRB complaints against Nintendo, and the unprecedented speaking out by employees at the notoriously secretive video game company, comes as a growing number of developers in the industry try to unionize. And even those who aren’t have in some cases formed groups like A Better Ubisoft to press the biggest publishers on reforming their workplaces.
Update: 8/11/22, 3:17 p.m. ET: Kotaku obtained a redacted copy of the charge which offers a little more detail on the allegations against Nintendo. The company is accused of firing an employee for speaking up about working conditions and of prohibiting employees from discussion wages, scheduling, and “other terms or conditions of employment.
Here’s the full text:
8(a)(1) Within the previous six months, the Employer discharged an employee(s) because the employee(s) engaged in protected concerted activities by, inter alia, protesting terms and conditions of employment and in order to discourage employees from engaging in protected concerted activities.
8(a)(1) Within the previous six-months, the Employer has interfered with, restrained, and coerced its employees in the exercise of rights protected by Section 7 of the Act by maintaining work rules that prohibit employees from discussing wages, hours, or other terms or conditions of employment.
The headline of the article has also been updated to reflect the exact content of the newest charges.
Update: 9/29/2022 at 9:20 A.M. E.T.: The fired tester recently came forward in an Axios interview. Mackenzie Clifton claims that they were let go a month after asking NoA president Doug Bowser: “What does NoA think about the unionization trend in QA in the games industry as of late?” Nintendo denies this, saying that the firing was over disclosing “confidential information.” Clifton is asking for an apology letter from Bowser as part of the settlement. The lawsuit is still currently ongoing.