With Activision Blizzard employees more organized than ever in the wake of the company’s multiple sexual harassment lawsuits and layoffs in quality assurance, a top executive apparently felt the time was right to send out a fear-mongering email warning workers about the vague “consequences” of unionizing.
The email’s writer, Brian Bulatao, is a Donald Trump crony Activision Blizzard brought in as chief administrative officer earlier this year. During his time in politics, Bulatao reportedly acted as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “attack dog,” at one point “bullying” former Inspector General Steve Linick as Linick investigated the Trump administration’s 2019 sale of $8 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia.
Here’s what Bulatao had to say to Activision Blizzard employees in a company-wide email this morning (emphasis his), courtesy of organizer and senior test analyst Jessica Gonzalez:
At Activision Blizzard, we are working hard to create a more inclusive, supportive, and rewarding environment, and thanks to your input, we are making progress.
In the past few months, we’ve announced that we’re converting nearly 500 temporary workers to full-time employees at Activision Publishing studios, and we have increased wages for a large portion of temporary workers and added paid time off benefits. We introduced a zero-tolerance harassment policy and waived required arbitration of sexual harassment and discrimination claims. We have made significant commitments to increase gender diversity and are dedicating $250 million to accelerate opportunities for diverse talent across the industry. We have more to do, and we believe that direct dialogue between management and employees is essential to the success of Activision Blizzard.
As you may have seen yesterday, there was a communication supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that asked employees to sign and submit union authorization cards. I want to be clear about this: The leadership of Activision Blizzard supports your right, under the the [sic] National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), to make your own decision about whether or not to join a union.
As you make this decision for your future, we ask only that you take time to consider the consequences of your signature on the binding legal document presented to you by CWA. Once you sign that document, you will have signed over to CWA the exclusive right “to represent [you] for the purposes of collective bargaining concerning all terms and conditions of employment.” That means that your ability to negotiate all your own working conditions will be turned over to CWA, just as the document says.
Achieving our workplace culture aspirations will best occur through active, transparent dialogue between leaders and employees that we can act upon quickly. That is the better path than simply signing an electronic form offered to you by CWA or awaiting the outcome of a legally-mandated and -regulated bargaining process sometime in the future.
If we fail to achieve the workplace goals we have set forth—if we fail to do the things we’ve committed to doing—then of course you will still always have the right to engage with, and vote for, CWA. But we are confident that we will make the progress we’ve previously pledged to make and create a workplace with you that we all can be proud of.
As always, we welcome outreach with concerns or ideas to help make improvements, and there are multiple avenues internally for dialogue, both direct and anonymous.
Bulatao’s email reeks of desperation, another attempt by Activision Blizzard management, which previously hired a union-busting law firm, to rein in the company’s beleaguered workforce before employees realize the power they wield. The memo’s messaging draws explicitly from decades of rhetoric spun by predatory bosses terrified of collective action. The only thing missing is a reference to Activision Blizzard as a family, though it’s clear management would rather the organization’s numerous problems be handled internally, free from public scrutiny when their decisions inevitably harm workers and benefit executives.
Since yesterday, advocacy group ABK Workers Alliance has raised over $235,000 in strike funds for employees at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software, who this morning entered the fifth day of their walkout in response to recent layoffs in the quality assurance department. While unionization has reportedly been in the works at Activision Blizzard for months, one worker told Kotaku that the situation at Raven Software provided a “spark” to openly move forward with organizing efforts.
“There is still a long way to go,” organizer and World of Warcraft senior UI engineer Valentine Powell recently explained via Twitter, “but we want to support our coworkers across [Activision Blizzard King] to finally have a real voice in how our companies are run, because for the past months and years, we have seen our leadership continue to ignore the needs of its employees. Thousands of ABK employees have put their careers and safety on the line for years trying to make our companies better, safer places to work. We have exhausted as many avenues as we could before looking to unionization.”
With workers in the United States openly voicing discontent over the country’s largely abhorrent labor practices—thanks in part to the covid-19 pandemic exacerbating existing issues—it was only a matter of time before union organizing took root in the video game industry. And now that momentum is building, it’s hard to see it coming to an end any time soon, whether the bosses like it or not.
Correction 12/10/2021 7:15 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this article misstated Bulatao’s job title.