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Labor organizers say Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard won’t stop them

‘The news [...] does not change the goals of the ABK Worker’s Alliance’

Employees of the video game company, Activision Blizzard, hold a walkout and protest rally to denounce the companys response to a California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit and to call for changes in conditions for women and other marginalized groups, in Irvine, California, on July 28, 2021. (Photo by DAVID MCNEW / AFP) Photo: David McNew/AFP via Getty Images
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

On Tuesday Microsoft announced its plan to acquire Activision Blizzard — makers of Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Candy Crush, and many other popular video game franchises — for a reported $68.7 billion. The move comes amidst heightened tensions between leaders at Activision Blizzard and workers attempting to form a union. Organizers say that despite the distraction and the potential for new leadership, the fight for worker’s rights at Activision Blizzard is still ongoing.

In a statement Tuesday on Twitter, the Activision Blizzard King Workers’ Alliance was adamant that the change must come from the top of the company — regardless of who its owner is.

“The news of Activision’s acquisition by Microsoft is surprising,” said the Activision Blizzard King Worker’s Alliance in a statement today on Twitter, “but does not change the goals of the ABK Worker’s Alliance. We remain committed to fighting for workplace improvement and the rights of our employees regardless of who is financially in control of the company.”

It’s a situation that Activision Blizzard has largely brought upon itself. The story began last summer with detailed reporting at Kotaku and other outlets describing a hostile work environment decades in the making. In Sep. 2021, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission joined in, filing a formal complaint against Activision Blizzard. In it, the EEOC claimed that the video game publisher subjected employees to sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination, and retaliation. The issue was settled to the tune of $18 million, but in the weeks and months that have followed, even more unsavory stories have come to light. One worker said the company suffers from an “alcohol-soaked culture of sexual harassment.”

The ABK Workers Alliance was formed in Aug. 2021 to support its workers and improve workplace conditions. That effort is still ongoing — including at Raven Software, where workers are currently in their fifth week of a strike to protest layoffs. Other demands include the call for the removal of CEO Bobby Kotick, who has retained his position at Activision Blizzard despite his central role in many of its controversies.

“Whatever the leadership structure of the company,” ABK Workers Alliance concluded in its statement, “we will continue our push to #EndAbuseInGaming, and appreciate the outpouring of support we’ve experienced in the last year.” The organization is currently accepting donations to support the striking workers at Raven Software, makers of Call of Duty: Warzone.

The Communication Workers of America (CWA), one of the nation’s largest and most influential labor unions, supports the ABK Workers Alliance in its efforts to unionize. It also issued a statement on Tuesday.

“The proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft would represent a major change to the gaming industry and significantly strengthen Microsoft’s competitive position at a critical time in the industry’s evolution,” CWA president Christopher M. Shelton said in a statement sent to Polygon. “Before any approval of this proposed deal, the Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, and states Attorneys General must all carefully consider the impacts on consumers and American workers, especially Activision Blizzard employees who have been trying to improve working conditions and raising up troubling issues regarding company culture of sexist and discriminatory cultural practices, pay inequity, workplace harassment and abuse.

“Activision Blizzard’s response to its employees’ concerns has been repeated surveillance, intimidation tactics, and the hiring of notorious union busters,” Shelton continued. “Activision Blizzard worker concerns must be addressed in any plan — acquisition or not — on the future direction of the company.”