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Activision Blizzard Employees Win Union Vote

The beleaguered company has been under fire for months after sexual harassment scandals surfaced.

The employees of major video game maker Activision Blizzard have voted to form a union at the company, which is in the middle of a $68.7 billion sale to Microsoft.

The new group is now only the second official union in the video game business sector, marking another historic move by workers to force employers to collectively bargain.

Microsoft  (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

That unionization push has also won unions at coffee giant Starbucks  (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report and retail behemoth Amazon  (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com Inc. Report, and has been gaining traction at other businesses like Trader Joe's.

Activision has been roiled by nearly a year of increasingly lurid headlines, including the accusation that it nurtured a “bro culture” of sexism, which was included in a complaint from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

"Activision Blizzard's rocky year had just been starting to even out after two of the major lawsuits filed against the video game publisher were finished," TheStreet's Colette Bennett reported May 4. 

"One lawsuit that alleged instances of sexual harassment within the company was resolved with an $18 million settlement in March 2022, seemingly closing the door on one of the publisher's biggest issues over the past year."

A slew of layoffs in December 2021 lead workers to regroup and attempt to form a union.

Activision  (ATVI) - Get Activision Blizzard Inc Report spokesman Kelvin Liu said that the company took issue with how the vote was conducted.

“We respect and believe in the right of all employees to decide whether or not to support or vote for a union," he said in an emailed statement. 

"We believe that an important decision that will impact the entire Raven Software studio of roughly 350 people should not be made by 19 Raven employees.”

When asked if the company would now contest the vote — or alternately, support the union — it issued the following statement.

“We’re committed to doing what's best for the studio and our employees”

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Not An Easy Road

The company had been actively involved in attempting to re-route employee attention from the union formation, multiple reports have found.

Dubbed the Game Workers Alliance, Activision employees who worked in the Raven Software divisions were split up into different teams.

The company also petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to have only employees of Raven Software be involved in a union vote, which was triggered when Activision attempted to ignore the GWA entirely.

That petition was denied, and Raven's vote now applies to the entire company workforce.

The new union was formed in partnership with the Communication Workers of America, and passed with 19 out of 22 votes and two challenged ballots.

Raven employees were also left out of a workplace-wide conversion that made part-time workers full-time, and did not receive new base pay of $20 an hour, workers said.

At the time, Brian Raffel, studio head at Raven, wrote in an email sent to the entire company that the workers who dealt directly with their employer had seen workplace conditions change.

“Through direct dialogue with each other, we improved pay, expanded benefits, and provided professional opportunities to attract and retain the world’s best talent,” it read.

NLRB Says Activision Threatened Staff

Activision also illegally threatened its staff, the NLRB found on May 23.

"[The] NLRB stated that Activision Blizzard threatened employees stating that they could not talk about wages, hours, or working conditions and implemented a restrictive social media policy that also interfered with employees’ protected organization rights," The Verge reports. 

"The news broke hours before the union vote was read aloud, and if the company does not settle, the NLRB has stated it will formally file a complaint. Activision Blizzard has denied the claims."

Company spokesperson Jessica Taylor pushed back against that finding on May 23.

“These allegations are false,” Taylor said in an emailed statement. “Employees may and do talk freely about these workplace issues without retaliation, and our social media policy expressly incorporates employees’ NLRA rights.”