Activision Blizzard Accused of Making Threats as Staff Forms Union

Imad Khan Senior Reporter
Imad is a senior reporter covering Google and internet culture. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN, Tom's Guide and Wired, among others.
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Imad Khan
3 min read

Attendees crowd the Activision Blizzard theater during E3.

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What's happening

The National Labor Relations Board says Activision Blizzard violated the National Labor Relations Act by interfering with employee unionization efforts. The game publisher denies the accusation. This comes as QA testers at Raven Software, an Activision subsidiary, vote in favor of forming a union.

Why it matters

The NLRB charge comes after multiple labor lawsuits were filed against Activision Blizzard last year. The successful union vote is the first within the company.

What's next

Activision Blizzard is being asked to settle the charge or a complaint will be issued.

The US National Labor Relations Board alleged Monday that Activision Blizzard illegally threatened staff and established a social media policy that stymied its workers' collective action rights. 

In the charge, the NLRB alleges Activision Blizzard violated Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, which says it's unlawful for employers to interfere or dissuade employees seeking to organize a union. The company allegedly interfered by telling employees they couldn't talk about wages, hours or working conditions. The company also allegedly had an "overly broad" social media policy that would surveil, discipline and interrogate employees who discussed those issues online.

In a statement, NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado said the government labor watchdog had "found merit to the allegations." The allegations were filed by the Communication Workers of America AFL-CIO, according to the charge against employer document

Blado said a complaint will be issued if a settlement isn't reached.

Activision Blizzard denied the allegations, saying employees were allowed to discuss workplace concerns. 

"Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation," an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement. "Our social media policy explicitly says that it 'does not restrict employees from engaging in the communication of information protected by law, including for example, rights of employees in the United States protected by the National Labor Relations Act.'"

The NLRB's allegations, reported earlier by Bloomberg News, come as quality assurance testers at Raven Software, a subsidiary of Activision Blizzard known for making Call of Duty Warzone and other games within the franchise, voted on Monday to form a union within the developer. The vote is the first attempt at a union within Activision Blizzard. 

Named The Game Workers Alliance, the union won the vote with 19 out of 22 voting in favor. Two of the ballots were challenged, according to a report from The Verge. The GWA represents only a small portion of Raven's roughly 350 employees.

Activision Blizzard said it respects the right of employees to form a union but said the election outcome could affect other staff members who didn't vote. 

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

The Game Workers Alliance didn't respond to a request for comment.

According to a 2019 report by Kotaku, QA testers at Treyarch, another Activision subsidiary, which makes Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, said they were underpaid, overworked and made to feel like second-class citizens. Activision responded to Kotaku saying the company aims to have a rewarding and respectful work environment and that if issues do arise, it works to remedy them immediately. 

The union vote follows a tumultuous 2021 for Activision Blizzard. Last year, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the games publisher for its "frat boy" culture, one the agency called a "breeding ground for harassment and discrimination."

The California suit was followed by a lawsuit from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC suit was settled in March for $18 million but was appealed Monday by a former employee. The employee, Jessica Gonzalez, argues the settlement prevents workers who apply as claimants to sue the publisher in the future, which includes California's ongoing lawsuit. 

The appeal "continues efforts by CWA and DFEH to interfere with and delay an $18 million settlement that benefits eligible employees," Activision Blizzard said in a statement. "This is the tenth attempt."

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

Microsoft said this year that it would buy Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. Senators sent a letter in March raising concerns about the deal to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan. The senators said the proposed deal represented further consolidation of the tech industry and would undermine accountability.