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Activision Blizzard’s labor woes grow as union files complaint with NLRB

The Activision Blizzard Booth during the 2013 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.
A new complaint by the Communications Workers of America accuses Activision of violating federal labor law through coercive rules, actions and statements.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

A union has filed a federal labor board complaint against Activision Blizzard Inc., opening a new front in the legal battle over workplace rights at the video game maker.

The National Labor Relations Board complaint, filed by the Communications Workers of America, accuses Activision of violating federal labor 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 obtained through a public information request. The document also accuses Activision of illegally telling staff they can’t 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.

J. Allen Brack’s resignation was not among the chief demands of the Activision Blizzard employees who staged a recent walkout, but his brief tenure at the top of the game studio has been marked by public crises.

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The agency’s docket shows that CWA’s complaint was filed Sept. 10. Activision didn’t reply to requests for comment Tuesday.

Activision Blizzard, whose games include “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 Santa Monica.

In a July email to employees, Activision’s chief compliance officer 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 labor 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, 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 it has no authority to impose punitive damages.

CWA, which has increasingly focused in recent years on organizing nonunion video game and tech workers, said in an emailed statement that it was “very inspired by the bravery” of Activision employees and that it filed with the labor board to ensure that violations by the company “will not go unanswered.”

Bloomerg writers Jason Schreier and Olga Kharif contributed to this report.


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