10 months after a California lawsuit alleged widespread sexual harassment and discrimination at Call of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard, employees at the company don’t feel like it’s made the necessary changes and have created a worker committee to demand further reforms. Chief among them are calls for independent investigations, an end to retaliation, trans-inclusive healthcare, and protections for breastfeeding.
“We believe it is imperative that workers have a voice in Activision Blizzard’s anti-discrimination policies — without that, the company’s culture of harassment and abuse will continue to go unchecked,” senior motion graphic designer and member of the Worker Committee Against Sex & Gender Discrimination, Emily Knief, said in a statement today. “We hope to have a productive conversation with leadership where they acknowledge these growing concerns and enact the demands brought forth by the committee.”
The list of demands, as first reported by The Washington Post, includes things like the committee having a say in how policies are developed, witnesses at HR meetings, and more resources for customer support and community managers facing harassment by customers. It also calls for, in regard to cases of sexual harassment or discrimination, more clear-cut ends to mandatory arbitration and corporate retaliation which go beyond the company’s existing concessions in those areas.
“We appreciate that these employees want to join with us to further build a better Activision Blizzard and continue the progress we have already made,” Activision Blizzard spokesperson Jessica Taylor said in a statement. “We have, for example, already upgraded our lactation facilities, waived arbitration, hired new DEI and EEO leaders, and collaborated with employees to make our policies and processes more Trans inclusive, just to name a few issues the letter raises.”
Activision Blizzard has promised to waive mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment and discrimination claims when employees request it, but the committee is calling for the practice to be ended in its entirety. Similarly, Activision Blizzard says it has a strict policy against retaliation, but the committee is calling on “retaliation” to be more specifically defined.
“Within 180 days of filing a claim, or until resolution of the dispute, if an employee is demoted or removed from their team or their work changes in other ways (work gets taken away from them for instance, or they are disciplined) that action is presumed to be retaliation,” it writes. The company is currently being sued by an employee who alleges that in addition to facing sexual harassment and misconduct, she was retaliated against by managers after reporting it in the form of missed promotions and bad performance reviews.
The committee also has a detailed list of demands specifically around breastfeeding, and cites a number of concerns shared by employees over the years:
1. The chairs in the private rooms would rock backward and could not be locked in position to properly position oneself to pump. Many workers were sitting on the floor to pump.
2. The tables were made of wood, were porous and textured so even though they were cleaned, breast milk built up and caked on the table discoloring and leaving trapped milk on the table.
3. The outlet situation was a fire hazard. There are only two plugs per room, one plug being used by a lamp with a USB jack for phones and another outlet was for the pump. There are no outlets for laptops or extra space to place a laptop if workers would like to work from this room. This resulted in extension cords being used.
4. Insufficient storage space: there were no locked cubbies for workers to keep their pump safe. Many workers had to lug them across campus multiple times a day as they didn’t want to leave them behind.
5. Refrigerators had padlocks that were not consistently locked or could be accessed by other workers. Workers were also using the refrigerators to store their beer in but the reason there were locks on them in the first place was due to workers’ breastmilk being stolen.
6. Sanitation standards were not being kept up. It did not appear that housekeeping was cleaning those rooms consistently the way the rest of the offices were.
Similar issues have been reported previously, and were shared on social media last December when a former Blizzard developer said their breast milk had been stolen from the work fridge. According to Activision Blizzard, there are more pumping locations that are properly equipped, “Quiet Rooms” now have pin codes, and the fridges have locks on them.
“We encourage any employees witnessing or experiencing inappropriate behaviour to report it so it can be investigated,” the company said. Responses like that are part of the issue, however. While the committee is asking for direct involvement in the decision-making process, the company has stopped short of offering it.
Nowhere is that more clear than in the committee’s request around HR interactions. The employees want all of them to be documented, and for employees to have the option of bringing another coworker along. It’s a practice not uncommon among unionized workers. Instead, Activision Blizzard suggested employees who have concerns “approach a senior leader whom they trust.” Last fall, thousands of employees at the company called on its most senior leader, CEO Bobby Kotick, to resign.
The committee’s demands come a day after quality assurance developers at one of Activision’s Call of Duty studios successfully formed the first-ever union at a major U.S. gaming company. Today, the company announced that Modern Warfare 2 will come out on October 28.
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