A group of Activision Blizzard employees is planning a “Walkout for Equality” on Wednesday to protest the feeling that “our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.”
The move comes in the wake of a California Department of Fair Employment and Housing lawsuit alleging widespread discriminatory practices at the company. It also comes after an official response from the company that thousands of employees have called “abhorrent and insulting to all that we believe our company should stand for” in a signed petition.
In a statement, walkout organizers said they’re asking management to work with them to develop new recruiting practices, publish employee pay rates, and undertake third-party audits to improve staff diversity and prevent harassment. Currently, organizers write, “women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gender discrimination” are subject to unfair discrimination in hiring, pay, and promotion and suffer from harassment from other employees.
The walkout group also seeks “an end to mandatory arbitration clauses” that “protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.” That statement echoes a core demand of 150 Riot Games employees who walked out in 2019 after the League of Legends maker tried to use arbitration to settle a 2018 employees lawsuit over sexual harassment and pay disparities. The case was later settled out of court without the use of arbitration.
Blizzard employees previously walked off the job in 2019 to protest the company’s handling of a Hearthstone player who made pro-Hong-Kong statements. Last year, many Blizzard employees circulated a spreadsheet sharing their salaries and raises in an effort to highlight pay disparities among the staff and in comparison to highly paid executives.
Organizers are urging employees to gather just outside the Blizzard campus (due to COVID health restrictions) starting at 10 am PDT. They are asking those who can’t attend in person to “[stop] work and [share] their participation on social media with the #ActiBlizzWalkout hashtag.” Members of other studios are being encouraged to walk out in solidarity and/or donate to a number of diversity and antiviolence charities.
The organized action from Activision Blizzard employees comes more than three years after the formal launch of Game Workers Unite (GWU) started its public push for unionization and labor organizing in the industry. That effort has led to recognized unions for international developers at Sweden’s Paradox Interactive and Nexon Korea, as well as a successful strike among contractors for one visual-novel maker. But there has yet to be a successful unionization effort at any major North American game developer.
“Labor organizing simply takes time, whether you are organizing a small coffee shop, a grocery store, or a large multinational tech corporation,” GWU co-founder and CODE lead organizer Emma Kinema told Ars last year. “It’s personal, one-on-one, conversation-based work, and it takes time, patience, and empathy. And those first public campaigns will come.”
The full statement from the Walkout for Equality is copied below:
Given last week’s statements from Activision Blizzard, Inc. and their legal counsel regarding the DFEH lawsuit, as well as the subsequent internal statement from Frances Townsend, and the many stories shared by current and former employees of Activision Blizzard since, we believe that our values as employees are not being accurately reflected in the words and actions of our leadership.
As current Activision Blizzard employees, we are holding a walkout to call on the executive leadership team to work with us on the following demands, in order to improve conditions for employees at the company, especially women, and in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups.
- An end to mandatory arbitration clauses in all employee contracts, current and future. Arbitration clauses protect abusers and limit the ability of victims to seek restitution.
- The adoption of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and promotion policies designed to improve representation among employees at all levels, agreed upon by employees in a company-wide Diversity, Equity & Inclusion organization. Current practices have led to women, in particular women of color and transgender women, nonbinary people, and other marginalized groups that are vulnerable to gen