Activision Blizzard's labour woes grow on US federal labour board complaint

Employees of Activision Blizzard at a walkout and protest rally in Los Angeles on July 28, 2021.
Employees of Activision Blizzard at a walkout and protest rally in Los Angeles on July 28, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - A union has filed a federal labour board complaint against Activision Blizzard, opening a new front in the legal battle over workplace rights at the video-game maker.

The United States National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint, filed by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), accuses Activision of violating federal labour law through coercive rules, actions and statements.

"The employer has threatened employees that they cannot talk about or communicate about wages, hours and working conditions," according to a copy of the complaint provided by CWA.

The document also accuses Activision of illegally telling staff they cannot discuss ongoing investigations; threatening or disciplining employees because of their activism; deploying surveillance and interrogations targeting legally protected activism; and maintaining a social media policy that infringes on workers' rights.

The agency's docket shows that CWA's complaint was filed Sept 10. Activision did not reply to requests for comment on Tuesday (Sept 14).

Activision Blizzard, which creates games like Call Of Duty and World Of Warcraft, is embroiled in controversy over its treatment of employees.

California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision in July, alleging the company fostered a "frat boy" culture in which female employees were subjected to sexual harassment, pay inequality and retaliation.

Days later, an employee walkout drew hundreds of demonstrators to the sidewalks of the company's corporate campus in Southern California.

In a July e-mail to employees, Activision's chief compliance officer, who served as homeland security adviser to former United States president George W. Bush, called the California agency's claims "factually incorrect, old and out of context".

Activision has also said that the picture painted in the lawsuit "is not the Blizzard workplace of today" and that the company values diversity and strives to "foster a workplace that offers inclusivity for everyone".

Complaints filed with the labour board are investigated by regional offices and, if found to have merit and not settled, can be prosecuted by the agency's general counsel and heard by administrative law judges.

The rulings can be appealed to NLRB members in Washington and from there to federal court. The agency can require remedies such as posting of notices and reversals of policies or punishments, but has no authority to impose punitive damages.

CWA, which has increasingly focused in recent years on organising non-union video game and tech workers, said in an e-mailed statement that it was "very inspired by the bravery" of Activision employees and that it filed with the labour board to ensure that violations by the company "will not go unanswered".

Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard is hiring executives from Walt Disney and Delta Air Lines to address the company's corporate culture.

The video-game maker hired Ms Julie Hodges, formerly a human resources executive at Disney, as its new chief people officer. It also hired Mr Sandeep Dube, formerly an executive at Delta, as chief commercial officer.

Shares of Activision are down 16 per cent so far this year.