Updated 09/20/2021 to reflect ongoing developments.
Well, well, well. Here we go again. To the surprise of literally no one, Activision Blizzard was caught with its proverbial hand in the cookie jar. This time not only are past employees calling foul, but present ones are joining their voices in outing more underhanded practices by the company.
On Friday, September 10, employees of Activision Blizzard operating under the name “A Better ABK (Activision Blizzard King)” and union reps from the Communication Workers of America (CWA) filed an unfair labor practices suit with the National Labor Relations Board.
The lawsuit is the newest in a long string of complaints filed against the company. “A Better ABK” alleges that in the last six months, Activision Blizzard continues to treat its employees like dirt. (Queue shocked gasps!)
According to PC Gamer, the newest allegations leveled at the company include:
- “Threatened” and “told” employees they cannot talk about “wages, hours, and working conditions,” or investigations about them.
- “Maintained an overly broad social media policy”
- “Enforced the social media policy against employees who have engaged in protected concerted activity”
- “Threatened or disciplined employees on account of protected concerted activity”
- “Engaged in surveillance of employees engaged in protected concerted activity and engaged in interrogation of employees about protected concerted activity.”
- Also included are allegations of “Coercive Statements (Threats, Promises of Benefits, etc.)”
Combined with the “frat boy culture” and sexual harassment/assault and negligent actions in the workplace suits filed in July by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), Activision Blizzard really has mired itself into some deep legal problems.
Completely predictable and preventable
As previously discussed, part of what makes these allegations not only predicable, but avoidable, is the company’s own actions and attitude in response. In a statement CWA organizing director Tom Smith shared with The Washington Post: “Management could have responded with humility and a willingness to take necessary steps to address the horrid conditions some [Activision Blizzard] workers have faced. Instead, Activision Blizzard’s response to righteous worker activity was surveillance, intimidation and hiring notorious union busters.”
In fact, one current employee anonymously revealed to Vice that some employees have seen targeted behavior by their leads and told their performance is sub-par, even though this is far from the truth.
“We think since they’re being so outspoken, leadership is trying to get rid of them,” the employee said.
Unfortunately, these scare-tactics appear to be working. “I’ve noticed some people have gone completely silent,” they continued. Some have even quit Activision, Blizzard, and the whole gaming industry.
“We’ve seen retaliation already,” they told Vice. “So I’m scared.”
As the lawsuits continue to pile up, Activision continues to flounder. Another employee also told Vice that the company has been rapidly losing people in the last few weeks. After all, who wants to go down with a sinking ship? Time will continue to tell whether the company will recover. The lawsuits are scheduled to be heard in court in December.
Activision Blizzard released the usual statement, according to Axios in response to the newest lawsuit: “We care deeply about our employees’ rights and have made great efforts to respect the rights of all employees under the NLRB.” Try not to eye roll too hard.
Possible winds of change?
On a completely related note, but possibly just a biased observation, the PlayStation Showcase last week had a strong showing from the biggest studios out there. Praiseworthy was the amount of strong and diverse female protagonists really taking a moment to shine. Also noteworthy was the lack of Activision, Blizzard or anything related to them in the showcase, even though there are several new games, including Call of Duty: Vanguard and Diablo II: Resurrected coming out from the company. It truly felt like “The Year of the Woman,” and should be acknowledge as a step in the right direction.
Update: The SEC has launched an investigation into Activision Blizzard’s practices. A subpoena was issued today for several of the higher-up of the company, including CEO Bobby Kotick.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the agency is also asking for documents and communications between Kotick and others within the company “regarding complaints of sexual harassment or discrimination by Activision employees or contractors.”