Amidst employee strike, Activision Blizzard changes course for vaccines

Activision Blizzard employees pulled out of work Monday to protest changes to the company’s mandate regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Previously, the video game publisher required that employees who work together be vaccinated in person. On Thursday, he emailed the staff and said that wouldn’t be the case. A group of workers organized and announced a strike on Friday, which led to a small concession from management on the same day.

The company has since modified its announcement by awarding an agency to individual studios, which is now free to “determine the processes and policies that work best for their employees and locations based on local conditions and risks.” However, the company’s future baseline will be that vaccines are not required.

Blizzard Entertainment is one of the Activision Blizzard studios that will maintain vaccine requirements “for at least the next few months,” according to an email sent to Blizzard staff and Reported by Bloomberg writer Jason Schreyer.

Monday’s eviction emphasized two demands, amended from the first three announced with: Activision Blizzard to make working from home an equitable option for all workers, and to rescind the lifted vaccine mandate for all studios.

“We had 115 people who attended our hypothetical strike,” a representative of the ABK workers’ coalition told Polygon. “Most people chose not to be on campus due to the high rate of COVID transmission in our area. ABK also did not allow people to take paid time for this withdrawal, which is a break from their previous behaviour.”

In response to the shutdown, Activision Blizzard provided the following statement to Polygon:

The health and safety of our employees is paramount in everything we do, including our back-to-office policy. While Activision Blizzard’s US vaccine mandate has been lifted, for the majority of our employees, we are still operating under the opportunity of a voluntary return to the office. In addition, employees who do not feel comfortable returning to the office are encouraged to work with their manager and our Human Resources team to explore options for work arrangements that best suit their individual situation. We will continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments to the policy as needed.

We realize that some employees may go on strike to express their opinions. The Company supports the right of our employees to express their opinions in a safe and non-threatening manner, and will not retaliate against any decision to participate in such withdrawal. The company also hopes that those who opt out will act in a legal, safe, and nonviolent manner.

Activision Blizzard currently uses a “voluntary return to office” policy, with workers free to work from home or in the office at their own discretion. But that may change in the future, as management highlights the “benefits of personal collaboration” According to the original email leaked.

Workers at several studios have told Polygon that they are concerned about the health and safety of fellow workers and their families. A Blizzard Entertainment employee told Polygon that she believes there is a way back to the office, but that it should not put workers at risk.

“Up until this email, the leadership training course demonstrated remarkable caution and security, allowing individuals throughout the organization to not only collaborate, but successfully launch expansions to many of the company’s major titles, all while working from home,” he said. “To see such an abrupt change in policy without any prior warning, only demonstrates their commitment to step back to the minimum recommended guidelines, in a hasty attempt to return to the office life of a pre-pandemic world.”

Another worker told Polygon that they are concerned about how expensive it can be for some workers to always be in the office — especially quality assurance and customer service roles, which are notorious for being low paid.

“Parents of young children will be forced to bring their children to a day nursery, which is expensive and can increase the chances of infection,” the worker said. “Gas prices are going up and most affordable housing is miles from offices.”

Some video game studios have embraced working from home as a permanent option for workers — a move some say has made the industry more equitable. This means that workers no longer have to uproot their lives and move to expensive cities to work in the big games. However, some places are less resilient, and like tech companies like Apple, workers aren’t enthusiastic about change — at least not yet, as COVID-19 continues to spread in communities around the world.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, hundreds of Americans die every day from COVID-19. While overall numbers have been trending downward, experts suggest that a new wave has already begun in the United States. Meanwhile, cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Asia and Europe.