Activision CEO Apologizes After Employees Threatened To Walk Out

(Bloomberg) — Activision Blizzard Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick responded Tuesday to the threat of an employee layoff with an email from all employees, apologizing and calling the company’s recent actions “tone deaf”.

Activision Blizzard employees called for a strike on Wednesday to protest the company’s reactions to a recent sexual discrimination lawsuit and to demand more equitable treatment of underrepresented workers.

In Kotick’s message, the CEO said the company had hired law firm WilmerHale to review its policies, promising “quick action” to ensure a “safe environment” and eradicate harassment. Kotick also promised that the company would take steps, including personnel changes, encouraging diversity in hiring, and removing inappropriate in-game content.

The controversy at Activision Blizzard started last week after the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued the publisher behind games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, which described disturbing incidents of sexual harassment and assault and a culture that confronted women. with unequal pay and retribution. Activision called the allegations false and distorted in a statement last week, and Fran Townsend, executive vice president for corporate affairs, sent a letter to staff reiterating that claim.

Outraged Activision employees have spoken out on social media and more than 2,000 employees have signed an open letter calling the company’s comments “appalling and offensive.” Now they are planning a strike.

The strike is being organized by a group of employees of its subsidiary Blizzard Entertainment, where most of the allegations of the lawsuit were directed. In a statement to Bloomberg, the workers said their goal was to “improve conditions for company employees, especially women, and especially women of color and transgender women, non-binary people and other marginalized groups.”

The strike will take place off Blizzard’s campus in Irvine, California on Wednesday.

The employees demand:

That Activision removes mandatory arbitration clauses “in all employee contracts, current and future.” New recruiting, interviewing, hiring and promotion practices that enable better representation “agreed by employees in a company-wide organization for diversity, equality and inclusion.” The publication of data on relative pay, promotion rates and salary ranges for employees “of all genders and ethnicities at the company”. That a diversity task force may hire a third party to audit the leadership, hierarchy and HR department of the company. “It is imperative to identify how current systems have failed to prevent employee harassment and to propose new solutions to address these issues.”

This is Blizzard’s second major organizational effort in the past 12 months. Last year, employees shared their paychecks on a public spreadsheet and sent a letter demanding management to ask for more equitable compensation. That move led to very little response, employees said.

Collective action is rare in the video game industry, which has no unions in North America. A representative of the Blizzard employees who organized this strike said they were not currently talking about unions.

(Updates to add details from Bobby Kotick’s message to staff, starting in the first paragraph.)

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