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CWA says Activision Blizzard fired staff who lambasted return to office policy

The CWA claims Activision Blizzard fired two employees for engaging in union activity and has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the publisher.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

March 1, 2023

2 Min Read
A photograph of Activision HQ

Labor union the Communications Workers of America (CWA) has filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against Activision Blizzard after the company allegedly terminated two employees for "engaging in protected, concerted, union activity."

The CWA claims the Call of Duty publisher unlawfully dismissed those workers for expressing outrage over its return to office (RTO) policy.

A redacted charge sheet shared with Game Developer indicates those employees were QA testers, and that both were dismissed "on or about" February 17, 2023.

Earlier this month, Activision Blizzard confirmed it will soon start requiring employees to work from the office for at least three days a week. That policy will be implemented in April for Activision Publishing workers, and July for Blizzard employees.

The requirement has left some workers frustrated and worried, prompting them to raise concerns about the potential for increased exposure to COVID-19, rising expenses for those hired remotely, and longer commutes during a recent (and seemingly tumultuous) Q&A with Blizzard leadership.

Activision Blizzard treating staff like "work horses"

The CWA claims the decision to scale down remote work received an overwhelmingly negative response from employees, including from those QA testers fired by Activision Blizzard.

"Numerous workers protested the RTO plan citing cost of living concerns and the impact it would have on their co-workers who might be forced out of their jobs. Two QA testers expressed their outrage using strong language. In response, management set up disciplinary meetings where both workers were fired," wrote the CWA in a press release.

"Prior to 2020, the use of outbursts and strong language in the context of concerted activity by employees was protected by the National Labor Relations Board. Under the Trump administration the NLRB systematically rolled back workers' rights, including modifying the standard for determining whether employees have been lawfully disciplined or discharged after making offensive statements, which ultimately limits free speech rights for employees."

Commenting on the situation, CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens said that Activision Blizzard has gotten away with treating its staff like "work horses" for far too long, and said that workers should be allowed to express themselves when faced with "unfair treatment by unscrupulous employers like Activision."

The CWA said the latest termination isn't the first time Activision Blizzard has retaliated against workers for protected concerted activity, and noted that last year the National Labor Relations Board found merit to the union's allegation that Activision Blizzard withheld raises from their lowest-paid workers on the basis of their union activity.

Game Developer has reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment and will provide an update when we hear back.

Update (03/01/2023): A spokesperson for Activision Blizzard has told Game Developer the publisher is disappointed in the CWA for filing the ULP charge and that it won't tolerate workplace harassment. 

"Having a voice in the workplace doesn't mean having the right to abuse, harass, or use slurs against colleagues," they said. "We don't tolerate that kind of behavior, and we're disappointed the CWA is advocating for it."

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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