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Activision Blizzard tells employees it can improve culture without a union

(Washington Post illustration; Activision Blizzard; iStock)
5 min

Activision Blizzard told employees Friday that ongoing work toward improving company culture would be best achieved without a union, according to an email shared with The Washington Post.

Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao sent the companywide email in response to Activision Blizzard employees, along with the media labor union Communications Workers of America (CWA), asking workers to sign a union authorization card, which could eventually lead to a companywide vote on forming a union.

The company’s response comes as employees enter their fifth day of a work stoppage in protest of contractor layoffs at Raven Software, an Activision Blizzard-owned studio that produces games like “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” and “Call of Duty: Warzone.” A total head count for the walkout remains unclear, as employees have stopped working virtually across Activision Blizzard’s many studios.

“We ask only that you take time to consider the consequences of your signature on the binding legal document presented to you by the CWA,” Bulatao wrote in the email. “Achieving our workplace culture aspirations will best occur through active, transparent dialogue between leaders and employees that we can act upon quickly. That is the better path than simply signing an electronic form offered to you by [the] CWA or awaiting the outcome of a legally mandated and regulated bargaining process sometime in the future.”

Bulatao wrote that under the National Labor Relations Act, the company recognized employees’ right to join a union.

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“Activision Blizzard’s email presents a hard-line, anti-union message to pressure employees against supporting unionization," said Risa L. Lieberwitz, labor and employment law professor at Cornell University. "The email plays close to the line of illegality in the implication that Activision Blizzard’s ‘pledged’ progress in workplace conditions are linked to the company being nonunion.”

On Thursday, Activision Blizzard employees created a strike fund for workers who have been participating in a work stoppage since Monday. So far, over $200,000 has been raised.

The strike fund is being listed on a GoFundMe page with a goal of $1 million, which would be used to support employees during the current work stoppage as well as future strikes. Company management told workers that they would be paid their wages for Monday through Wednesday of the walkout but not beyond, according to emails shared with The Post. Workers continuing to strike Thursday and onward either won’t receive pay for those days or will have to use their own accrued paid time off.

The video game industry in the United States is not unionized, so a move to get workers to sign union cards is notable. It brings Activision Blizzard workers one step closer to organizing, although those who sign the authorization cards are not obligated to join a union and can withdraw their cards if they change their mind later.

One current Activision worker who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation said she signed the union card because “it’s the only option.”

“Do we want to work for a company that has a history of not only sexual abuse and protecting abusers but also sporadic layoffs that may hit us at any time, especially as a contract QA worker? Or do I risk losing my job to try and make a change?” she said.

The GoFundMe page was created by Blizzard senior test analyst Jessica Gonzalez, who told The Post she was giving her 3-year-old child a bath while organizing the strike fund on gaming messaging app Discord. The effort coincides with Thursday’s Game Awards, a significant annual red-carpet event for the games industry in Los Angeles. Workers planned the two events to coincide so as to draw the most eyeballs to the cause.

“Workers deserve better, and [Activision Blizzard CEO] Bobby Kotick is continuing to ignore us,” Gonzalez said Wednesday evening. Gonzalez announced her resignation from the company in late November; her last day is Friday.

At Blizzard, groping, free-flowing booze and fear of retaliation tainted ‘magical’ workplace

Activision Blizzard workers have walked out three times in five months since the gaming company was sued in late July over sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination allegations. The third walkout, which is ongoing this week and has no set end time, is the first to occur over multiple days.

Over 60 workers at Raven Software, an Activision Blizzard-owned game studio, walked out of work Monday in protest of their parent company laying off 12 of the studio’s quality assurance testers on Friday. Hundreds of workers across Activision Blizzard joined Raven Software contractors in solidarity and in protest of the layoffs.

“Activision Blizzard just continues to show us all how to not effectively manage a business. And, as a longtime Blizzard player, it breaks my heart, and as a trade unionist, it’s pretty infuriating, but I think this latest controversy at Raven is, again, entirely self-inflicted on management’s part,” said CWA organizing director Tom Smith, who helped with the strike fund effort. “Their only path forward for this company is to meet the righteous demands laid out in the original walkout and commit to higher labor standards, which center workers having a meaningful voice in all company matters.”

Activision Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

Over the past several months, Activision Blizzard has come under fire from many directions. In addition to the lawsuit from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, it is also under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and is being sued in an August class-action suit from shareholders alleging violation of federal securities laws. Additionally, there is an unfair labor practice complaint against the company filed by workers and the CWA.

Inside the Activision Blizzard lawsuit

On July 20, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against video game publisher Activision Blizzard, alleging widespread, gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment. Here’s what you need to know:

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