Activision Blizzard employees walked out of work Monday to protest the company’s decision to nix its COVID-19 vaccine mandates amid a return to office work—a move that Activision has promptly reversed in the wake of threats of the walkout.
The walkout, which began at 10 a.m. this morning and is planned to last through the end of the workday, was organized by ABetterABK, the alliance of pro-union employees at Activision. It comes as the Santa Monica-based video game developer is in the midst of closing a nearly $69 billion merger with Microsoft, which is bringing with it mounting legal pressure and antitrust inquiries.
Activision employees told dot.LA that the work stoppage saw some employees walk out of the company’s offices in Irvine but mostly took place online—with those working remotely posting pictures of their empty desks on Twitter using the hashtag #SickOfThis. They estimated that upwards of 110 employees participated in the walkout.
When reached for comment, representatives for Activision would not confirm how many employees walked off the job on Monday.
“We recognize some employees may be participating in a walkout to express their views,” Activision said in a statement to dot.LA. “The company supports our employees’ right to express their opinions in a safe and nonthreatening way, and will not retaliate for any decision to participate in this walkout. The company also hopes that those who walk out will conduct themselves in a legal, safe, and nonviolent manner.”
Word of the planned walkout started circulating on Friday evening, after Activision chief administrative officer Brian Bulatao circulated an email announcing that the company was lifting its office vaccine mandate. ABetterABK subsequently sent demands to Activision, which included a reimplementation of the vaccine mandate, a permanent remote work option for employees and the ability for each individual employee to choose whether to work remotely or not.
The backlash appeared to have the desired effect, with Bulatao reportedly swiftly issuing a follow-up noting that Activision would let workers voluntarily decide whether to return to the office. On Monday morning, ABetterABK announced that Activision would allow its individual gaming studio divisions “to create their own policies”—with four unnamed studios having “reversed course” and put vaccination and testing policies back into place.
The head of one of those divisions, Blizzard Entertainment President Mike Ybarra, reportedly told his staff that Blizzard will continue to require vaccinations for “at least the next few months” and that approximately 80% of its workers in Irvine, Albany, N.Y., and Austin, Texas were verifiably vaccinated.
In December, Activision began a “pilot program” for returning to office work. Emily Knief, a senior motion graphic designer who’s worked at Activision for 16 years, told dot.LA that she’s been working in-person at the company’s Irvine offices since Dec. 10. Knief noted that she’s usually the only person on her team working in the office, which is amply stocked with sanitizers, gloves, masks and digital thermometers—safety measures that she said made her feel comfortable with a return to in-person work.
“Up until this [Bulatao] email that came out, they had been pretty good about looking out for worker health and safety,” Knief said.
She added that the company’s sudden vaccination policy reversal was unexpected. “We've seen this back and forth, breakneck change in policy now, without any sort of discussion or forethought to bring it to the workers to see what we're comfortable with,” Knief said.
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