(Bloomberg) -- US labor board prosecutors determined that Activision Blizzard Inc. illegally threatened staff and enforced a social media policy that conflicts with workers’ collective action rights, according to a government spokesperson. The finding is a setback for the company as it tries to fend off a unionization effort and finalize a $68.7 billion sale to Microsoft Corp.
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Unless Activision settles, the Los Angeles-based regional director of the National Labor Relations Board will issue a complaint, the agency’s press secretary Kayla Blado said Monday. The NLRB enforces the National Labor Relations Act, the New Deal law establishing workers’ collective action and organizing rights.
Activision denied wrongdoing. “These allegations are false,” company spokesperson Jessica 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.”
The labor board is slated to count ballots on Monday from an election held among around 21 employees at Activision’s Raven studio in Wisconsin, which could establish a rare foothold for organized labor in the video game industry.
The allegations in the labor board case were brought to the agency last September by the Communications Workers of America, the same union organizing at Raven. CWA, which has increasingly focused in recent years on organizing non-union workers in the tech and video game industries, said in an emailed statement at the time that it was “very inspired by the bravery” of Activision employees and that it filed with the agency to ensure that violations by the company “will not go unanswered.” In an emailed statement Monday, CWA’s organizing director Tom Smith said the labor officials’ finding underscored the need for Activision’s CEO to change course: “In order to rebuild trust at Activision, Bobby Kotick needs to take the high road and start listening to workers instead of doing everything possible - including breaking the law - to silence them.”
Activision, the games-entertainment behemoth behind Call of Duty, has had a tumultuous year. It was hit last summer with an explosive complaint from California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, accusing the company of fostering a “bro culture” of sexism. Activision’s chief compliance officer, who served as Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush, called those claims “factually incorrect, old and out of context.” Workers there moved to unionize after news of job cuts in December 2021, which preceded weeks of strikes. In January, Activision agreed to the deal with Microsoft.
Complaints issued by labor board regional directors are considered by agency judges, whose 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 has no authority to impose punitive damages. Jennifer Abruzzo, the labor board’s general counsel appointed by President Joe Biden, takes a much broader view of workers’ legal rights than her Trump-appointed predecessor. She has signaled she’ll seek to establish new precedents on numerous issues, including how much companies can restrict employees’ social media posts.
(Updates with company and union statements starting in third paragraph)
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