It’s been nearly a month since a former employee filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint against Nintendo alleging surveillance, coercion, and retaliation. Outside of an initial statement denying the company engaged in union-busting, the house of Mario has remained publicly silent in the face of an increasing number of allegations of bad working conditions even while acknowledging them internally. Instead, it’s spent the last several weeks promoting Splatoon 3, Mario Strikers, and its other big summer releases without missing a beat.
The latest report of worker frustration at Nintendo of America comes from Axios, which first broke the news of the original NLRB complaint. Published Thursday, it outlines complaints from current and former employees about how Nintendo relies on contractors at every major level of its North American operation while offering poor conditions and no job stability in return. “I was told if I went to [my grandpa’s] funeral, I wouldn’t have a job when I came back,” one former associate told Axios.
This report follows an April 22 investigation by Kotaku in which 10 current and former Nintendo employees described a two-tier system at the company where permatemp testers, localizers, call center reps, and others are paid poorly, treated with little respect, and rarely ever made full-time despite becoming experts in their department. On May 3, IGN followed-up with its own exposé, detailing similar issues and growing discontent among current employees about the exploitative system. Even former president of Nintendo of America, Reggie Fils-Aimé, weighed in on the allegations, saying they weren’t representative of the Nintendo he remembered while working there.
Nintendo, meanwhile, hasn’t commented on any of this, at least outwardly. Internally, Axios reveals that current president of Nintendo of America, Doug Bowser, addressed the allegations in a message to employees about “stories appearing in some media today about alleged working conditions at Nintendo.”
“Like many of you, the executive leadership team and I find many of these points troubling, and we are closely reviewing the content,” Bowser wrote, according to Axios. The Nintendo executive added that the company has “zero-tolerance for inappropriate conduct, including harassment, discrimination or intimidation.” According to Kotaku’s own sources, which corroborated the content of the message, Bowser posted it on April 22, the same day as our initial report.
They say that’s been the company’s only meaningful communication on the subject, and attribute the ongoing radio silence to a sense that Nintendo is just waiting for the whole thing to blow over. They also found its vagueness disappointing. “It all feels very hopeless,” said one current associate.
In the meantime, Nintendo has carried on promoting its big upcoming games. On the same day as Bowser’s internal message, the company revealed Splatoon 3’s release date. Switch Sports released a week later. Yesterday the company held its latest indie showcase. And today Mario Strikers: Battle League got a new trailer.
One thing Nintendo can’t market away is the NLRB complaint. While Nintendo said the employee in question was terminated for allegedly violating an NDA, four sources familiar with the incident told Kotaku the person had spoken up about unions just weeks prior to the firing. And now Axios reports that Parker, one of the staffing agencies supplying Nintendo with cheap labor, previously told employees in 2014 to stop discussing labor organizing outside of work.
While talk of outright unionizing is rare, grumbling about the ongoing conditions isn’t, though many employees say they fear retaliation if they’re ever caught complaining. One current associate recently told Kotaku, “Everyone is afraid of speaking of unions to management, even though we all express our concerns and dissatisfaction for our treatment between each other.”