Activision Blizzard illegally threatened staff, U.S. labor officials find

May 23, 2022, 5:46 PM UTC

U.S. labor board prosecutors determined that Activision Blizzard Inc. illegally threatened staff and enforced a social media policy that conflicts with workers’ rights, according to a government spokesperson. The finding is a setback for the company as it tries to fend off a unionization effort and finalize a $68.7 billion sale to Microsoft Corp.

Unless Activision settles, the Los Angeles-based regional director of the National Labor Relations Board will issue a complaint, the agency’s press secretary Kayla Blado said Monday. Activision did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The labor board is slated to count ballots on Monday from an election held among around 21 employees at Activision’s Raven studio in Wisconsin, which could establish a rare foothold for organized labor in the video game industry.

The allegations in the labor board case were brought to the agency last September by the Communications Workers of America, the same union organizing at Raven. CWA, which has increasingly focused in recent years on organizing non-union workers in the tech and video game industries, said in an emailed statement at the time that it was “very inspired by the bravery” of Activision employees and that it filed with the agency to ensure that violations by the company “will not go unanswered.”

Activision, the games-entertainment behemoth behind Call of Duty, has had a tumultuous year. It was hit last summer with an explosive complaint from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, accusing the company of fostering a “bro culture” of sexism. Activision’s chief compliance officer, who served as Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush, called those claims “factually incorrect, old and out of context.” Workers there moved to unionize after news of job cuts in December 2021, which preceded weeks of strikes. In January, Activision agreed to the deal with Microsoft.

Complaints issued by labor board regional directors are considered by agency judges, whose rulings can be appealed to NLRB members in Washington, D.C., 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. Jennifer Abruzzo, the labor board’s general counsel appointed by President Joe Biden, takes a much broader view of workers’ legal rights than her Trump-appointed predecessor. She has signaled she’ll seek to establish new precedents on numerous issues, including how much companies can restrict employees’ social media posts.

—With assistance from Cecilia D’Anastasio.

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