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Activision Blizzard workers say company broke federal labor law in NLRB complaint

Update: Activision Blizzard workers have accused the company of “coercive behavior” in a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

September 14, 2021

3 Min Read
The front gate of Blizzard Entertainment. The word "Blizzard" is on an overhang over a security checkpoint.

Activision Blizzard workers have accused the company of “coercive behavior” in a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

According to the filing (which took place last Friday), this coercive behavior included a mix of statements, threats, promises of benefits, and surveillance of employees.

A tweet posted by worker group A Better ABK indicates that this coercion was done in response to workers “discussing forced arbitration,” a practice that’s been criticized at Activision Blizzard and other companies like Riot Games.

The filing is also the first time that A Better ABK’s organizing has involved organizations active in the world of unionizing. Not only is the NLRB the organization that oversees unionization and organizing in the United States, but the complaint was filed in conjunction Communication Workers of America (CWA).

CWA began stepping into the world of organizing game developers in conjunction with the organization Game Workers Unite in January 2020.

A Better ABK also added in its announcement of the filing that it was hoping to secure more protections for workers facing pressure at other game companies and beyond.

“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 group wrote.

A spokesperson for A Better ABK provided a copy of the NLRB filing to journalists, which alleges that specifically in the last six months, Activision Blizzard has directly threatened employees, saying that they "cannot talk about or communicate about wages, hours and working conditions," and also disciplined employees for posting about work conditions on social media. 

Tom Smith, organizing director at CWA said in a statement that the organization came to the support of A Better ABK organizers in their mission to fight assault, discrimination, and harassment at the company. "Management could have responded with humility and a willingness to take necessary steps to address the horrid conditions some ABK workers have faced," he said. "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," Smith added. "we have filed these charges to ensure that the actions of ABK management will not go unanswered.”

In case you’re just catching up on this story, Activision Blizzard has been mired in controversy since the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the company for fostering a culture of sexual harassment and workplace abuse—particularly at Blizzard Entertainment.

In the weeks since that filing, company employees have mobilized to keep pressure on management, making a series of demands for changes at the company. As of yet, CEO Bobby Kotick and other leaders have not acknowledged those demands.

Organizers from A Better ABK expressed worry about some of the behavior described in this NLRB filing when we spoke with them during a walkout back in July. In conversations with reporters, organizers expressed concern about backlash against employees seen talking to the press.

We’ve reached out to Activision Blizzard for comment, and will update this story when the company responds.

Updated with more details from the NLRB filing provided by A Better ABK, as well as a statement from CWA organizing director Tom Smith.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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