The Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed charges on February 28 against Activision CEO Bobby Kotick. The company behind Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, and Blizzard Entertainment (publisher of Overwatch) has an extensive history of labor abuse, including sexual harassment and opposing unionization — all of which it denies. According to the CWA, the latest offense — and the subject of the charges — was on February 17 of this year.

@LeastMyHairIsOk, an employee at Blizzard Entertainment, revealed on February 13 (and Activision later confirmed) that Activision is requiring all of its workers to return to in-person work sometime between April and June (the exact date varies by studio). Like many other industries, the gaming industry has been working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic. And, like many other companies, Activision is now forcing workers to come back — to significant labor discontent.

Activision Fired Employees Over Speech

But as this isn’t technically illegal, it wasn’t what motivated the CWA’s lawsuit against Kotick — who has previously been the target of worker petitions calling on him to resign. According to the CWA, many Activision workers oppose returning to in-person work:

“Numerous workers protested the [return to in-person] plan citing cost of living concerns and the impact it would have on their co-workers who might be forced out of their jobs.”

And on February 17, Activision fired two such workers for reportedly using “profane or abusive language” to express their disagreement with the plan. The emphasis on “reportedly” is important here — the CWA described the workers’ words as “strong language.” It’s unclear what specific words the employees actually used; at least partly, this is another instance of Activision’s lack of transparency:

  • As mentioned earlier, the company only announced its return to in-person plan after a protesting employee did.
  • Additionally, when one of the fired employees requested to have a witness at their pre-termination disciplinary meeting, Activision denied the request.
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These terminations were the motivation for the CWA’s lawsuit. National labor law has long included protections against disciplining or discharging an employee for expressing labor discontent or pro-union sentiment through language. But according to the CWA:

“[The Trump administration] systematically rolled back workers’ rights, including modifying the standard for determining whether employees have been lawfully disciplined or discharged after making offensive statements, which ultimately limits free speech rights for employees.”

Forced returns to in-person work have been underway for about a year now — a year that has also seen multiple spikes in Covid cases, and which is still seeing tens of thousands of new cases every week. Workers have little control over microbes and viruses.

Labor actions will determine how much control they have over companies like Activision.

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