Activision Blizzard reacts to unionization talk with anti-unionization talk

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Yesterday's report about the ongoing work stoppage at Activision Blizzard also noted that some employees at the publisher appeared to be ramping up efforts to unionize. While it's not clear at this point how widespread or successful those efforts are, it was enough to get the attention of company management: An internal message from Activision Blizzard chief administrative officer Brian Bulatao warns employees that voting for a union could be bad, actually.

"As you may have seen yesterday, there was a communication supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that asked employees to sign and submit union authorization cards," the message says. "I want to be clear about this: The leadership of Activision Blizzard supports your right, under the National Labor Relations Act, to make your own decision about whether or not to join a union.

"As you make this decision for your future, we ask only that you take time to consider the consequences of your signature on the binding legal document presented to you by CWA. Once you sign that document, you will have signed over to CWA the exclusive right 'to represent [you] for the purposes of collective bargaining concerning all terms and conditions of employment.' That means your ability to negotiate all your own working conditions will be turned over to CWA, just as the document says."

A copy of the message was shared on Twitter by departing senior test analyst Jessica Gonzalez.

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Bulatao says that achieving "workplace culture aspirations" is better achieved through dialog between management and employees, not the CWA. 

 "If we fail to achieve the workplace goals we have set forth—if we fail to do the things we've committed to doing—then of course you will still always have the right to engage with, and vote for, CWA," he wrote. "But we are confident that we will make the progress we've previously pledged to make and create a workplace with you that we can all be proud of."

The message has attracted considerable levels of scorn on Twitter. Many replies see it as a veiled threat, while others wonder why, if Activision is so committed to change, it isn't moving more quickly to bring about change. The broad consensus is that Activision Blizzard is very eager to prevent unionization.

The CWA also weighed in, calling the statement "disappointing."

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"Instead of responding to their workers’ concerns, they've opted to blast the most tired anti-union talking points straight from the union busting script," the CWA tweeted. "Union avoidance campaigns waste resources that ABK management could otherwise be using to address serious concerns such as compensating the victims of sexual harassment. We hope management will come to its senses & see that their only viable path forward is to meet the righteous demands from the initial walkout, including ensuring there is a lasting worker voice in all company matters."

The negative backlash isn't surprising—what is a little surprising, to me at least, is that Activision Blizzard leadership would think that putting out this kind of message was a good idea. They had to know the message would go public, and would not be well received. The only sensible conclusion seems to be that they believe sowing doubt over unionization is worth the blowback. 

Several hours after Bulatao's message, another was sent to managers by chief people officer Julie Hodges, offering "training sessions" on how to answer union-related questions from employees. It did not go over very well either.

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A GoFundMe campaign (opens in new tab) launched on Thursday to support Activision Blizzard employees who have walked off the job in support of Raven Software contract workers who were let go last week (opens in new tab) is now up to nearly $250,000.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.