Activision Blizzard Workers Accuse Company of 'Union Busting' and 'Intimidation'

"We've seen retaliation already."
September 14, 2021, 7:00pm
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Image: Tod Seelie/VICE
On the Clock is Motherboard's reporting on the organized labor movement, gig work, automation, and the future of work.

Activision and Blizzard workers are accusing the company of "intimidation and union busting" in a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board. 

The workers argue that "Activision Blizzard management is using coercive tactics to attempt to prevent its employees from exercising their rights to stand together and demand a more equitable, sustainable, and diverse workplace," according to a press release sent to reporters on Tuesday.

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The workers have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRBagainst the company on Friday. The Communications Workers of America's Campaign to Organize Digital Employees are supporting the Activision Blizzard workers. 

In the charging document the workers allege that “within the last six months the above named employer has repeatedly engaged in unlawful conduct by threatening employees,” and “told employees they cannot communicate with or discuss ongoing investigations of wages, hours and working conditions; maintained an overly broad social media policy; enforced the social media policy against employees who have engaged in protected concerted activity; threatened or disciplined employees on account of protected concerted activity; engaged in surveillance of employees engaged in protected concerted activity and engaged in interrogation of employees about protected concerted activity.”

The accusation comes after the state of California sued the gaming giant in July for fostering a "frat boy" workplace culture and for being a 'breeding ground for harassment," especially against women employees. In the days following the lawsuit, hundreds of workers walked out in protest and have been outspoken on Twitter.  

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Activision Blizzard workers have organized as “ABK Workers Alliance” under the Twitter handle @ABetterABK, which stands for Activision Blizzard King (King is the mobile games company behind Candy Crush Saga Activision acquired in 2016). The group tweeted that "if the NLRB rules in our favor, the ruling will be retroactive and we will set a precedent that no worker in the US can be intimidated out of talking about forced arbitration."

A current Activision Blizzard employee, who asked to remain anonymous as they feared retaliation, said that some employees have recently been told their performance was not up to par by their lead, even though they had been doing well. 

"We think since they're being so outspoken, leadership is trying to get rid of them," the employee said, adding that the person in question had been outspoken in internal company channels.  

As a result of these tactics, the employee said, "I've noticed some people have gone completely silent," or even quit the company and the games industry altogether. 

"We've seen retaliation already," they said in an online chat. "So I'm scared."

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The employee said the mood among colleagues and other workers who are part of the alliance has been hopeful for change but that they don't think it will come from leadership. 

"They're keeping us in the dark," they said. 

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Another current employee said that "Blizzard has been hemorrhaging people," in the last few weeks, referring to employees quitting the company in the wake of the harassment allegations. 

“I am so glad to see the CWA supporting and protecting my co-workers from these coercive and isolating tactics,” a third current employee told Motherboard. “It is important that people know their rights and that they have the ability to enforce those rights. People should not fear for their jobs because they are speaking up to be treated with humanity.”

Activision Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment. CWA did not respond to an email requesting more details about the accusations against Activision Blizzard. 

In its lawsuit, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing included a series of stories detailing the harassment faced by some Activision Blizzard employees. 

"Female employees were overwhelmingly assigned into lower grades/levels… and received less stock," the complaint alleges. Also, women were subject to so-called "cube crawls" during which men at the company got drunk and "crawl[ed]" through office cubicles and harassed women, according to the complaint. 

Since the lawsuit's announcement, several damning stories of harassment have come out. In 2015, Blizzard recruiters asked a woman at a cybersecurity conference whether she liked "being penetrated." In late 2018, Blizzard's chief information officer Derek Ingalls joked in a meeting that employees shouldn't sleep with their executive assistants, and if they did, they shouldn't stop, and that if they did stop, they better have "deep pockets," according to multiple former employees who were at the meeting. 

Matthew Gault contributed reporting.

This story has been updated to include details from the charging document.