Activision Blizzard Workers to Walk Out in Gender Equality Push
As the multi-billion dollar game developer publicly stays mum about its abortion position, employees are again taking actions into their own hands.
Employees at Activision Blizzard will walk out on July 21 for the fifth time, demanding flexibility for remote work and additional support for workers in states affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
A Better Activision Blizzard King, a workers coalition formed in August 2021, is organizing a “Walkout to End Gender Inequity” after receiving no response from executive management with its demands, organizer Jessica Gonzalez told The Jacob Wolf Report on Wednesday.
“They refused to speak to employees, [but] not for [our] lack of trying,” said Gonzalez, who worked at Blizzard as a test analyst from August 2019 to December 2021 but still leads the labor body representing Activision Blizzard employees. “I mean, we released these demands two months ago and [Activision Blizzard] pretty much said, ‘We appreciate you, but we have this handled.’
“We're not going to be ignored anymore. And we just can't keep continuing on this, ignoring the employees and only caring about the bottom line, not caring about employee safety.”
Among A Better ABK’s demands is a right for all Activision Blizzard workers to work remotely, as well as relocation assistance, cost-of-living adjustments and covered travel expenses for employees affected by state laws restricting transgender and reproductive healthcare.
The group is also asking to be involved in a sexual harassment audit that Activision Blizzard shareholders voted in favor of in June, and for Activision Blizzard to sign a labor neutrality agreement similar to that of Microsoft, which is set to acquire the game publisher, pending government approval, in summer 2023.
An Activision Blizzard spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
Employees and the worker alliance presented their asks to Activision Blizzard management prior to the June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which fundamentally overturned the protections offered by Roe, Gonzalez said. But with it likely that 26 states will significantly restrict or completely outlaw abortion before the end of the year, Gonzalez said that there’s increased urgency among staff both in and outside of those states.
“Leadership's lack of response in these situations absolutely shows you where their values lie, and we shouldn't stand for it as well,” Gonzalez said. “We've been trying really hard to have more protections for trans employees and most sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination policy, we actually worked on. We worked on demands and ways that we could solve the situation, but leadership refuses to have employees like the ones that are actually facing these issues come up with solutions, and it's insulting. It really is.”
In early June, prior to the Dobbs ruling, Activision Blizzard instituted a new policy that “expanded medical travel benefits” to U.S. employees enrolled in its healthcare plans if they are unable to access “reproductive health, gender-affirming treatment and transplant care” within 100 miles of their homes.
When SCOTUS decided Dobbs on June 24, however, the company was one of just a few in the gaming industry that did not issue a public statement. That sparked additional outrage internally, as well as concerns about the company’s level of commitment to its workers and their needs. Shortly thereafter, Gonzalez’s group polled staff and received more than 200 votes in favor of organizing another walkout.
Walkouts will take place at multiple Activision Blizzard offices, according to Gonzalez, including Irvine, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and Eden Prairie, Minn.
Texas banned abortion after six weeks with its Heartbeat Act (SB-8) in September, but the state also has a “trigger law” on the books, which will criminalize the procedure within 30 days of the Dobbs ruling. Abortion will remain legal in Minnesota, and California is one of three West Coast states, along with Oregon and Washington, to make a public commitment to be a “safe haven” for those seeking abortions.
The July 21 walkout is the fifth that employees at Activision Blizzard have organized since the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the company in July 2021, alleging rampant sexual abuse and employee mistreatment.
Two of those walkouts were in protest of gender discrimination and sexual harassment, while workers also walked out in December in response to layoffs at subsidiary studio Raven Software and in April over the lifting of a vaccine mandate.
In late May a group of 28 quality assurance workers at Raven voted 19-3 to form a union, the first of its kind for the game developer industry. Gonzalez said she expects the A Better ABK group to move toward a union election soon, but stressed the difficulty in organizing across such a vast set of subsidiaries and various departments.
“There’s no way to put a pulse on when that will be done,” she said. “Especially with all of the work that Activision has done to try to union-bust. It's still continuing.”
Elsewhere in Gaming and Esports
Another regulatory body is digging into the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard transaction. The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority will decide by Sept. 1 if it will take further action as it goes through a review of how the proposed merger may affect competition for games in the country. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is also doing its due diligence on the deal and is reportedly set to focus on how the merger could affect labor competition in gaming.
🪙 “How a fake job offer took down the world’s most popular crypto game” (Ryan Weeks / The Block)
Axie Infinity, which we’ve covered here before, lost $540 million in a hack in late March. A few months later, we now know how: because an engineer from Axie’s creator, SkyMavis, received spyware while being courted by a set of hackers posing as recruiters on LinkedIn. Solid original reporting from Weeks shows just how volatile the cryptocurrency industry remains.
This isn’t so much news as much a request for my readers to give a colleague some love. Washington Post gaming reporter Gene Park announced on Tuesday that he’s been diagnosed with cancer after a string of health issues which he’s chronicled online over the past couple months. Even before the Post started Launcher—its game vertical, which, disclosure, I am freelancing for on a story—in October 2019, Gene served as a major ally to the games industry inside the country’s second-most-read paper. One of his friends, the Post’s Tokyo and Seoul bureau chief Michelle Ye Hee Lee, is raising funds for Gene. We owe him all the support we can give.
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