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Activision Blizzard accused of illegal surveillance in new NLRB complaint

Update: An Activision Blizzard spokesperson has pushed back on the NLRB complaint, and said that the CWA "continues to create an inaccurate picture of Activision Blizzard that willfully ignores the facts."

Justin Carter, Contributing Editor

August 16, 2022

4 Min Read
Logo for games publisher Activision Blizzard.

A new worker complaint to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleges that Activision Blizzard has been illegally surveilling its employees. First reported by Kotaku's Ethan Gach, the complaint states that the Call of Duty publisher had cut off access to a chat channel held by workers discussing wages and employee hours, and threatened to shut down other internal communication channels inside the company. 

In July, the worker advocacy group ABK Workers Alliance gathered developers from multiple Activision Blizzard studios to engage in a walkout to protest the company's slow efforts to combat gender inequity. The walkout was held at Blizzard's offices in California, Texas, and Minnesota, and drew the attention of other worker advocacy groups in the area, such as the Orange County Labor Federation and Game Workers of Southern California. 

Filed on August 12, the complaint specifically alleges that Activision Blizzard engaged in coercive statements and actions (which includes promises of benefits and threats), coercive rules, and concentrated activities (retaliation, discipline). These actions are said to have taken place during the July walkout. 

In response to accusations of illegal surveillance, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said that  “Recent employee walkouts have frequently been attended by reporters seeking comment from not only the participants but the company itself. We routinely have PR staff on-site, at a respectful distance from employees on strike, to assist media.”

The spokesperson also said that worker claims about the closure of chat channels was "false." "The CWA (Communication Workers of America) continues to create an inaccurate picture of Activision Blizzard that willfully ignores the facts," they stated. They also claimed that the CWA's unionizing efforts are "preventing the Company from protecting our employees from disrespectful or disparaging remarks." 

"Activision Blizzard remains committed to being the most inclusive and welcoming workplace. This includes the way individuals treat one another during meetings or in open forums."

This new worker complaint comes days after Activision Blizzard's lawyers attempted to argue with the NLRB for why Blizzard Albany's QA workers shouldn't unionize. As part of their argument, the lawyers were said to have revealed a list of QA testers for Blizzard's Diablo IV, and stated that only Diablo franchise developers should be unionizing.  

A complaint similar to the recent two was quietly filed in late December 2021, accusing Activision Blizzard of coercive statements. 

2022 is the year of the NLRB

This is the second worker complaint related to Activision Blizzard to reach the NLRB. In May, the NLRB found that the company was illegally threatening employees to not speak about wages and working conditions.

Along with Activision Blizzard, the NLRB has also faced complaints in relation to Nintendo of America. In the first complaint, filed in April, an anonymous NoA employee alleged that the company and staffing partner Aston Carter were interfering with contract employees' efforts to unionize. 

At the time, Nintendo stated that it "is not aware of any attempts to unionize or related activity and intends to cooperate with the investigation conducted by the NLRB."

More recently, a second complaint against NoA was filed last week. Like the original complaint, it alleges that NoA and Aston Carter had terminated a contractor for discussing their pay and working conditions with their fellow contractors. 

Fortnite creator Epic Games received a complaint of its own earlier this year. Tech labor activist Cher Scarlett filed a complaint after her application to work at the company was rejected. Scarlett alleged that after filling out her "request for activity" form provided by Epic, which documented her activism with Apple employees, she was informed days later that the company was going forward with another candidate. 

"My 'outside activities' were explicitly mentioned," wrote Scarlett on Twitter. "The idea that they got the form after they made a decision is absurd."

At the time, Epic spokesperson Erika Looks disputed Scarlett's claim, stating that it chose another candidate who "scored higher in their interviews" by the time her form had been returned. "The form did not play any role in our decision."

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Activision Blizzard. It has also been updated to reflect that Activision Blizzard is asking for all Diablo-related employees to vote on the union, not just Diablo IV employees.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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