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Senators push for FTC review of Microsoft and Activision’s $69B deal

Senators say both companies have a poor history of worker treatment

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Microsoft Xbox logo on a glitchy green background Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Four United States senators have called on Federal Trade Commission chairwoman Lina Khan to investigate Microsoft’s $68.7 billion deal to acquire Activision Blizzard. In an open letter sent on Thursday, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Cory Booker urged Khan to examine two companies that they say have “failed to protect the rights and dignity of their workers.”

“Workers at Activision Blizzard, following years of rampant sexual misconduct and discrimination and unfair labor practices, have led calls for greater transparency and accountability in the gaming industry, and we are deeply concerned that this acquisition could further disenfranchise these workers and prevent their voices from being heard,” the senators wrote.

Warren, Sanders, Whitehouse, and Booker said the FTC should oppose the deal if it finds “the transaction is likely to enhance monopsony power and worsen the negotiating position between workers and the parties.”

In January, Microsoft announced its intention to acquire Activision Blizzard; in February, a Bloomberg report said the FTC, rather than regulators from the Justice Department, would review the deal. Activision Blizzard also faces numerous lawsuits regarding the Microsoft deal, as well as allegations and lawsuits regarding alleged systemic sexual harassment and discrimination.

One of the discrimination lawsuits, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was settled for $18 million earlier this week, an agreement the Communication Workers of America (CWA) called “woefully inadequate.” A lawsuit involving the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing is ongoing.

Activision chief executive Bobby Kotick, who has faced calls for resignation from Activision Blizzard workers, will continue to lead the company until the Microsoft deal is finalized. Kotick, however, is also under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and U.S. Department of Justice over potential insider trading, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

In August, Activision Blizzard QA workers spoke out about demanding work, low pay, and intense crunch. Workers across the company have since walked out in protest over the allegations and lawsuits Activision faces. As this is ongoing, Activision Blizzard and Raven Software QA workers have taken steps to form a union, and are waiting on a National Labor Relations Board decision that will define the scope of that proposed union.

The NLRB’s hearing concluded in February with Activision Blizzard accused by workers and union reps of union-busting actions and foot-dragging. A Microsoft representative said last week that the company “will not stand in the way” of any Activision Blizzard union should one be recognized, according to The Washington Post.

The four senators called Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard “a cynical and ‘opportunistic’ attempt to capitalize off the systemic issues coming to light at Activision Blizzard.” The senators noted that Microsoft’s bid to acquire Activision comes “during its crisis over weak worker protection,” and said the company’s history with its workers “also present[s] alarming signs for how Microsoft would treat Activision Blizzard employees.”

Neither Activision Blizzard nor Microsoft responded to Polygon’s request for comment before publication.

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