Activision Blizzard urges employees to 'consider the consequences' of signing union authorization cards

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As Activision Blizzard works to improve its workplace culture, a union organizing effort is brewing within the video game company. A group of workers, known as ABetterABK, have teamed up with the Communications Workers of America and started asking co-workers to sign and submit union authorization cards. 

STARBUCKS STORE IN BUFFALO VOTES TO UNIONIZE

In an email to its U.S. employees on Friday, Activision Blizzard Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao emphasized that while workers have the right to make their own decision to join a union, they should "consider the consequences" of signing the cards. 

"Once you sign that document, you will have signed over to CWA the exclusive right ‘to represent [you] for the purposes of collective bargaining concerning all terms and conditions of employment’," the email states. "That means that your ability to negotiate all your own working conditions will be turned over to CWA, just as the document says."

Several hundred Activision Blizzard employees stage a walkout outside the gate at Activision Blizzard headquarters on Wednesday, July 28, 2021 in Irvine, CA.  (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Bulatao argued that "active, transparent dialogue between leaders and employees" would be a "better path" to achieving the company's workplace culture aspirations than waiting for the outcome of a future bargaining process. 

"If we fail to achieve the workplace goals we have set forth — if we fail to do the things we’ve committed to doing — then, of course, you will still always have the right to engage with, and vote for, CWA," he added. "But we are confident that we will make the progress we’ve previously pledged to make and create a workplace with you that we all can be proud of." 

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Activision Blizzard's turmoil stems from a discrimination lawsuit filed in July by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which accused the company of paying female employees less than their male counterparts, providing them with fewer opportunities to advance, fostering a "frat boy workplace culture" and ignoring complaints by female employees of blatant harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

After the company called the allegations "distorted, and in many cases false, descriptions of Blizzard’s past," over 2,000 current and former workers signed a petition calling the response "abhorrent and insulting." Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick issued a lengthy apology over the company's "tone deaf" response and promised workplace changes would be forthcoming, but it was not enough to stop an employee walkout over the issue.

Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, speaks onstage during “Managing Excellence: Getting Consistently Great Results” at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Oct. 19, 2016 in San Francisco. (Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair / Getty Images)

Kotick has also been accused of concealing his knowledge about sexual misconduct allegations against the company from its board of directors, as well as allegedly engaging in inappropriate behavior of his own. Those allegations led to a second employee walkout, and both workers and a group of investors have called on Kotick and company board members to resign by the end of the year. 

Both Activision and the board have defended Kotick and expressed confidence in his leadership moving forward. 

In addition to the CDFEH lawsuit, Activision Blizzard shareholders have filed a class action lawsuit against the company, ABetterABK has filed a National Labor Relations Board complaint accusing the company of union busting and worker intimidation and the Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed Kotick and other executives over their disclosures regarding employment matters and related issues.

Activision also reached an $18 million settlement to resolve allegations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that it subjected female employees to sexual harassment and must hire an EEO coordinator and an independent EEO consultant who will engage with the board about its workplace transformation.  

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In response to the allegations, Activision Blizzard announced a zero-tolerance harassment policy and waived required arbitration of sexual harassment and discrimination claims. More than 20 employees have exited the company, including former Blizzard president J. Allen Brack, and another 20 employees have faced other types of disciplinary action since allegations surfaced in July. 

The company also said it would convert nearly 500 temporary workers at Activision Publishing studios to full-time status, increase hiring of women or non-binary employees and invest $500 million toward accelerating and expanding opportunities for diverse talent and under-represented communities. 

In addition, Kotick volunteered to reduce his salary and not accept any bonuses or equity until the new goals are met, and the company's board of directors formed a workplace responsibility committee to oversee the progress of meeting those goals.

"We have more to do, and we believe that direct dialogue between management and employees is essential to the success of Activision Blizzard," Bulatao's email concludes. "As always, we welcome outreach with concerns or ideas to help make improvements, and there are multiple avenues internally for dialogue, both direct and anonymous." 

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ATVI ACTIVISION BLIZZARD INC. 58.60 -0.47 -0.80%

Bulatao's email comes as a group of workers have been striking since Monday in protest of contractor layoffs at Raven Software, an Activision Blizzard-owned studio known for games like "Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War" and "Call of Duty: Warzone." On Thursday, ABetterABK created a strike fund for the workers, raising over $247,000 of its $1 million goal, which will be used assist with wages and relocation of impacted Raven contractors.   

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