Activision Blizzard is accused of making threats as employees form a union

What’s up

The National Labor Relations Board says Activision Blizzard violated the National Labor Relations Act by interfering with employees’ union efforts. The game publisher rejects the accusation. This comes as QA testers at Raven Software, an Activision subsidiary, vote to form a union.

Why it matters

The NLRB charges come after multiple labor lawsuits were filed against Activision Blizzard over the past year. The successful union vote is the first in the company.

What’s next

Activision Blizzard will be asked to pay the fee or file a complaint.

The US National Labor Relations Board alleged Monday that Activision Blizzard illegally threatened employees and instituted a social media policy that impeded its workers’ rights to take collective action.

In the indictment, the NLRB alleges that Activision Blizzard violated Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, which says it is unlawful for employers to interfere or prevent workers from forming a union. The company is said to have interfered by telling employees not to discuss wages, hours or working conditions. The company also reportedly had an “overly broad” social media policy that monitors, disciplines and interrogates employees who discuss these issues online.

In a statement, NLRB spokeswoman Kayla Blado said the government’s Labor Inspectorate had “confirmed the allegations”. The allegations were filed by the Communication Workers of America AFL-CIO against the employer, according to the indictment.

Blado said a complaint will be issued if no agreement is reached.

Activision Blizzard denied the allegations and said employees are allowed to discuss concerns in the workplace.

“Employees can and will speak freely about these workplace issues without retaliation,” an Activision Blizzard spokesman said in a statement. “Our Social Media Policy specifically states that it “does not prevent employees from communicating information that is protected by law, including, for example, the rights of employees in the United States, which are protected by the National Labor Relations Act.”

The NLRB’s allegations, previously reported by Bloomberg News, come as quality assurance testers at Raven Software, an Activision Blizzard subsidiary known for developing Call of Duty Warzone and other games within the franchise, voted in favor Monday have to form a union within the developer. The vote is the first attempt at unification within Activision Blizzard.

The union, dubbed The Game Workers Alliance, won the vote by 19 votes to 22. Two of the ballots were contested, according to a report by The Verge. The GWA represents only a small part of Raven’s approximately 350 employees.

Activision Blizzard said it respects employees’ rights to form a union, but said the election result could affect other employees who didn’t vote.

“We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of approximately 350 employees should not be made by 19 Raven employees,” the company said in a statement.

The Game Workers Alliance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to a 2019 report by Kotaku, QA testers from Treyarch, another Activision subsidiary that makes Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, said they were underpaid, overworked and feeling like second-class citizens. Activision responded to Kotaku that the company strives for a rewarding and respectful work environment and that when problems arise, they work to fix them immediately.

The union vote follows a tumultuous 2021 for Activision Blizzard. Last year the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the game publisher for its “fraternity boy” culture, which the agency describes as a “hotbed of harassment and discrimination.”

The California lawsuit was followed by a lawsuit brought by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC lawsuit was settled in March for $18 million, but an appeal was filed Monday by a former employee. The clerk, Jessica Gonzalez, argues that the settlement prevents potential plaintiffs from suing the publisher in the future, including the ongoing lawsuit in California.

The appeal “continues efforts by CWA and DFEH to disrupt and delay an $18 million settlement benefiting eligible employees,” Activision Blizzard said in a statement. “This is the tenth try.”

Another lawsuit filed earlier this year alleges the wrongful death of an employee partly caused by sexual harassment.

Microsoft earlier this year announced it would buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. Senators sent a letter in March raise concerns on the deal with Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan. The senators said the proposed deal represents further consolidation in the tech industry and would undermine accountability. Activision Blizzard is accused of making threats as employees form a union

Chris Barrese

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