With the help of a major union, Activision Blizzard employees have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the game development and publishing giant has intimidated, surveilled, and interrogated workers to discourage them from discussing labor conditions, such as those raised by the discrimination lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard in July.
The employees, who are working under the "A Better ABK" banner (referring to Activision Blizzard King), and the Communication Workers of America allege that, in the last six months, Activision Blizzard has:
- "Threatened" and "told" employees they cannot talk about "wages, hours, and working conditions," or investigations about them. (The investigation that led to the July lawsuit, for example.)
- "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.”
"Protected concerted activity" refers to employees discussing ways to improve their workplace or organizing into labor groups, including collective bargaining groups. The CWA also acknowledged that Activision Blizzard hired WilmerHale, a law firm known for anti-union efforts with Amazon and other companies.
One anonymous Activision Blizzard employee told Vice that they suspect that upper management is attempting to get rid of employees who have been outspoken about the company's alleged discrimination.
Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to PC Gamer's request for comment.
In partnership with CODE-CWA, we've filed an unfair labor practice suit with the National Labor Relations Board: https://t.co/meGNFYcWJYSeptember 14, 2021
A Better ABK has not announced intentions to unionize under the CWA, although the parties working together to accuse Activision Blizzard of hindering employee organizing suggests that it's a possibility.
"We are very inspired by the bravery of ABK workers, and we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with workers fighting harassment, assault, and discrimination," CWA national organizing director Tom Smith said. "Management could have responded with humility and a willingness to take necessary steps to address the horrid conditions some ABK workers have faced. Instead Activision Blizzard’s response to righteous worker activity was surveillance, intimidation, and hiring notorious union busters.
"The National Labor Relations Board under the Biden Administration has made it clear that it will hold companies accountable whenever they break the law; we have filed these charges to ensure that the actions of ABK management will not go unanswered."
The CWA is a national union with 1,200 chartered local unions, with a focus on telecommunications, IT, airline, news media, and broadcast media. It represents an estimated 700,000 members across the public and private sectors. The complaint against Activision Blizzard is part of the union's Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, which it describes as an initiative "supporting workers' organizing efforts in the technology and game industries."
"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," the A Better ABK account tweeted today.
Forced arbitration refers to a common employment contract clause which requires certain employee-company disputes to be settled privately. Ending it is one of the demands A Better ABK made following the July lawsuit.
That lawsuit, which was filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, focused primarily on Blizzard, and alleged that the studio permitted a widespread culture of sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the workplace. It led to an employee walk out, as well as the formation of A Better ABK.
In the ensuing months, several high-profile leaders on Blizzard's development teams have departed the company, including Diablo 4 director Louis Barriga, designer Jesse McCree, and World of Warcraft designer Jonathan LeMarche. Blizzard president J Allen Brack left his position in early August.
Recently, Blizzard removed in-game references to developers implicated in the lawsuit, including former World of Warcraft creative director Alex Afrasiabi, who was fired in 2020 for misconduct. Blizzard also announced that Overwatch character McCree will be renamed.