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Activision Blizzard accused of union busting, intimidating staff in complaint to watchdog

CWA, employees file lawsuit on same day HR head ejects

Activision Blizzard intimidated its workers and illegally obstructed their attempts to form a union, a US watchdog was told today.

The allegations were made in an unfair labor practices lawsuit submitted to the National Labor Relations Board by Activision Blizzard employees and the Communications Workers of America union.

The computer games goliath has had a rocky summer. In July, California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard, alleging pay inequality, sex and race discrimination, and sexual harassment against women. By August, Blizzard leader J. Allen Brack and HR boss Jesse Meschuk had resigned. Jen Oneal and Mike Ybarra – who were executive vice-presidents of development, and platform and technology, respectively – are now co-leaders of the Blizzard studio.

On top of this, thousands of employees – more than one in five – signed an internal letter slamming the Call of Duty maker's "abhorrent and insulting" handling of the California lawsuit. The biz had, in a public statement, dismissed the claims lodged against it as "distorted, and in many cases, false."

CEO Bobby Kotick later apologized for the Overwatch giant's “tone deaf” response and said it had hired a law firm to conduct an internal investigation of its workplace.

Staff, organizing using the handle ABetterABK on Twitter and Reddit, have called for fairer working conditions and an end to what's said to be a toxic workplace culture at the company. ABK being short for Activision Blizzard King.

They specifically asked for, among other things, an end to mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts; changes to hiring and promotion policies to ensure people vulnerable to gender discrimination are treated fairly; and statistics on take-home compensation to identify any biases in the businesses.

It is their right as workers to organize for a work environment free from abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment

But instead of listening to staff, the management is instead "using coercive tactics to attempt to prevent its employees from exercising their rights to stand together and demand a more equitable, sustainable, and diverse workplace," the communications union said in a statement, adding that the labor board complaint [PDF] accuses the corporation of "worker intimidation and union busting."

"It is their right as workers to organize for a work environment free from abuse, discrimination and sexual harassment, and this right is protected by federal labor law," the union continued.

“We are very inspired by the bravery of ABK workers, and we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with workers fighting harassment, assault, and discrimination,” said Tom Smith, national organizing director at CWA. “Management could have responded with humility and a willingness to take necessary steps to address the horrid conditions some ABK workers have faced.

“Instead Activision Blizzard’s response to righteous worker activity was surveillance, intimidation, and hiring notorious union busters. The National Labor Relations Board under the Biden Administration has made it clear that it will hold companies accountable whenever they break the law; we have filed these charges to ensure that the actions of ABK management will not go unanswered.”

Also today – as coincidence would have it – the games giant's chief people officer Claudine Naughton exited the biz, and will be replaced by Julie Hodges, a Walt Disney HR exec. Sandeep Dube, a Delta Air Lines executive, will join the company as chief commercial officer.

The Register has asked Activision Blizzard for further comment. ®

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