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Some Activision Blizzard studios will require proof of vax as worker walkout continues

Two key worker demands remain unmet

Photo: Microsoft Acquisition Activision Blizzard Photo: Xing Yun/Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images
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.

Activision Blizzard employees walked out of work Monday to protest changes to the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Previously, the video game publisher had required employees working together in-person to be vaccinated. On Thursday, it emailed staff and said that would no longer be the case. A group of workers organized and announced the walkout on Friday, leading to a slight concession from management that same day.

The company has since adjusted its announcement by giving agency to individual studios, which are now free to “determine the processes and policies that work best for their employees and locations based on local conditions and risk.” The baseline for the company going forward, however, will be that vaccines are not required.

Blizzard Entertainment is one Activision Blizzard studio that will keep its vaccine requirement “for at least the next few months,” according to an email sent to Blizzard staff and reported by Bloomberg writer Jason Schreier.

The walkout on Monday emphasized two demands, revised from the initial three it was announced with: for Activision Blizzard to make work-from-home an equitable option for all workers, and reversing the lifted vaccine mandate for all studios.

“We had 115 people attend our virtual walkout,” an ABK Workers Alliance representative told Polygon. “Most people opted not to be on campus due to a rise in COVID transmission in our area. ABK also did not allow people to take paid time for this walkout, which is a break from their past behavior.”

In response to the walkout, Activision Blizzard provided the following statement to Polygon:

The health and safety of our employees is at the absolute forefront of everything we do, including our return to office policy. While Activision Blizzard’s U.S. vaccine mandate has been lifted, for the majority of our employees, we are still operating under a voluntary return to office opportunity. In addition, employees who are not comfortable returning to the office are encouraged to work with their manager and our HR team to explore options for working arrangements that suit their individual situations. We will continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments to the policy as needed.

We recognize some employees may be participating in a walkout to express their views. The company supports our employees’ right to express their opinions in a safe and nonthreatening way, and will not retaliate for any decision to participate in this walkout. The company also hopes that those who walk out will conduct themselves in a legal, safe, and nonviolent manner.

Activision Blizzard is currently using a “voluntary return to office” policy, with workers free to work from home or at the office at their own discretion. But that may change in the future, as management highlights the “benefits of in-person collaboration,” according to the original leaked email.

Workers at various studios tell Polygon they’re worried about the health and safety of their fellow workers and families. One Blizzard Entertainment employee told Polygon she believes there is a path to returning to the office, but it must not put workers in harm’s way.

“Up until that email, the course that leadership had charted was one of observed caution and safety, allowing people across the organization to not only collaborate, but successfully launch expansions to several of the company’s flagship titles, all while working from home,” she said. “To see such an abrupt change in policy without any advanced warning, demonstrates only their commitment to draw down to the recommended minimum guidelines, in a rushed attempt to return to office life of a pre-pandemic world.”

Another worker told Polygon that they’re concerned with how much more expensive it is for some workers to always be at the office — specifically quality assurance and customer service roles, which are notoriously low-paid.

“Parents of younger children will be forced to bring their child into a daycare, which is expensive and could further increase the chances of infection,” the worker said. “Gas prices are increasing and most of the affordable housing is miles away from the offices.”

Some video game studios have embraced work-from-home as a permanent option for workers — a move that some say has made the industry more equitable. It’s meant that workers no longer have to uproot their lives and move to expensive cities to work on big games. Some places are less flexible, however, and like tech companies such as Apple, workers aren’t thrilled about the change — at least not yet, as COVID-19 continues to spread in communities around the globe.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, hundreds of Americans die each day from COVID-19. While overall numbers have been trending down, experts suggest a new wave has already begun in the United States. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are spiking in Asia and Europe.

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