Laid-off EA workers in Baton Rouge allege retaliation for union efforts
EA laid off 200 game testers employed at its LSU Facility, with some alleging it was retaliation for union efforts (LSU photo)
Some of the 200 Electronic Arts video game testers laid off Tuesday from the company’s facility at LSU say it was retaliation for organizing a union. Employees were given no advance notice of the layoffs.
Several quality assurance testers granted interviews with the Illuminator on the condition they not be identified because they fear further retaliation for violating their non-disclosure agreements. The Illuminator has verified the individuals interviewed were EA employees.
The employees said their colleagues at the Baton Rouge facility had been working on organizing a union for several months. One tester said a worker was terminated in November after discussing the benefits of unionization on an interoffice messaging system that supervisors could access.
After the termination of his coworker, the tester said things at work changed.
Several outgoing testers told the Illuminator they were expected to train other quality assurance testers in the United Kingdom and Romania who were likely their replacements. In the months leading up to the layoffs, they said their workloads gradually dwindled. By the start of 2023, documents and test cases that Baton Rouge workers had handled were marked “EAUK-Only” or “EARO-Only” to reflect the location of testers in the U.K. and Romania.
“For a handful of months, they slowly transitioned all of our responsibilities to international teams while our union efforts were growing,” one laid-off tester said.
“Some former employees, including myself, believe that EA and Magnit learning of our union plans, EAUK/EARO gradually taking our responsibilities and the sudden layoffs are related,” he added.
The laid-off workers, contracted by EA through third-party workforce management firm Magnit Global, were given 60 days severance pay.
EA provided a statement to the Illuminator in response to questions about whether the layoffs in Baton Rouge were related to the unionization efforts.
“As part of our ongoing global strategy, we are expanding the distribution of our Apex Legends testing team and ending testing execution that’s been concentrated in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, impacting services provided by our third-party provider,” an EA spokesperson said. “Our global team, inclusive of remote playtesters across the U.S., enables us to increase the hours per week we’re able to test and optimize the game and reflects a commitment to understand and better serve our growing community around the world.”
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Louisiana Economic Development (LED) has reported employment reaching as high as 500 workers at EA’s LSU facility. No information was provided from the company on the number of people still employed there.
Another tester at the company said she became aware of the unionization efforts after meeting with a representative with the Industrial Workers of the World, an international labor union with multiple chapters in the United States. The layoffs were a perfect example of why workers felt the need to organize, she said.
Erika Zucker, a labor lawyer who works as a policy advocate with the Workplace Justice Project, said it would be a violation of federal labor laws to retaliate against workers for unionizing, but that it’s an uphill battle for impacted employees to prove charges and receive relief.
“The challenge of labor laws in the U.S. is that we have a process, but we don’t have remedies available to workers that effectively keep employers from taking action,” Zucker said.
Zucker said there are no financial incentives for employers not to retaliate against workers. While employers could be ordered to rehire workers, the former employees might not want to rejoin the company, she said.
“I would never say to a worker not to take action because nothing ever happens without action,” Zucker said. “But it’s not an incredibly effective system.”
The mass layoffs came as a shock to the community. EA first partnered with LSU in 2008 and then expanded its workforce when it moved onto a $30 million publicly-funded facility on campus. The facility was considered a feather in Baton Rouge’s cap as the city marketed itself as a burgeoning technology hub.
The company has participated in the state’s digital media incentive program since 2008, garnering $28.67 million in tax credits, according to LED spokesperson Ron Thibodeaux.
Thibodeaux said the state has not yet certified tax credits for the company’s 2021 or 2022 expenses.
“Louisiana remains committed to aggressively pursuing companies that can provide quality digital media, software and tech jobs for our workforce,” Thibodeaux said.
An EA spokesperson said the Baton Rouge facility will remain open, although the company declined to comment as to their plans for the facility.
Cody Worsham, a spokesperson for LSU, did not respond to requests for comment on the future of LSU’s partnership with EA.
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