Just 24 hours after announcing the lifting of their COVID-19 vaccine requirements for employees, Activision Blizzard have seemingly backpedaled on their decision amid staff threats of a walkout.
As initially reported by Kotaku, Activision Blizzard Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bulatao sent an all-company email on April 1st announcing, “Effective immediately we are lifting our vaccine mandate for all U.S. employees.”
“This means that employees no longer need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to return to the office,” Bulatao stated.
He elaborated, “Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen businesses and other indoor venues across the U.S. lift vaccine requirements, and we feel it is important to align our site protocols with local guidance.”
“While this change in policy addresses our current state in the pandemic, we know the situation is ever-evolving and we will continue to monitor the risks for COVID-19 in all areas where we operate,” Bulatao said. “I encourage you to review these FAQs which should help answer your questions.”
Asking employees to “continue to confirm your vaccination status” in a provided workplace productivity tool, Bulato reassured them, “Having this information readily available will allow us to act quickly – and pivot if necessary – if we see a future spike in cases.”
“We recognize that returning to the office looks different across our business units and even within our business units,” Bulatao admitted. “We also recognize that different sites are in various stages of return. While this change may not have an immediate impact on those who are still working remotely, we wanted to communicate this now so that you have sufficient time to prepare. ”
Bulatao further informed staff, “Over the next few weeks, you’ll receive additional updates on what returning to the office looks like from your Business Unit or Site Leader. While we look forward to your return, we recognize you may have personal circumstances you’d like to discuss with your manager and HRBP.”
“As we define what the future of work looks like, I want to remind us all of the benefits of in-person collaboration,” Bulatao concluded. “In order to ensure we all have a safe workspace where we can gather with colleagues and innovate together, it is essential we stay committed to protecting ourselves and others.”
The email had been leaked publicly by Jessica Gonzalez, a Blizzard Senior Quality Engineer and a founder of the ABK Workers Alliance, an Activision Blizzard staff union that formed in light of the company’s sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits.
“LEAKED: Brian Bulatao emailed all of ABK to talk returning to office in June,” Gonzalez tweeted that same day. “They will not be enforcing proof of vaccination. I’m sure the ‘benefits’ of in person collaboration is actually so employees organizing can be followed and monitored closely. Do not die for this company.”
As noted by Gonzalez, some employees felt the end of the mandate was purely to hinder union efforts. Others expressed concerns they would be a greater risk of infection, despite others in the company being vaccinated.
“As a current employee of @ATVI_AB [Activision Blizzard], I do not feel safe with unvaccinated employees returning to the office,” shared Blizzard Senior Motion Graphic Designer Emily Knief. “This is a prime example of where we need a union. Decisions that impact all workers should not be made in a vacuum. @ABetterABK is needed now more than ever.”
To that end, the ABK announced that Activision Blizzard employees were threatening to stage a walkout – the fourth since the company’s aforemention legal troubles began – unless their terms regarding COVID-19 vaccinations were met.
“Due to the new RTO policy around no longer mandating vaccination requirements in regards to the ongoing pandemic, a group of ABK employees will be conducting a walkout on Monday April 4 at 10am PDT,” declared the ABK Twitter account.
“”We have 3 demands,”the ABK dictated to their employer. “1. An immediate reversal to lifting the vaccine requirement, 2. Remote work should be offered as a permanent solution, [and] 3. The decision to work remote or in office should be made by each individual employee.”
“We invite gamedevs from ABK and across the industry to participate with us virtually using the hashtags #SickOfThis and #GameWorkersUnite” ABK encouraged in a follow-up tweet.
“This reversal puts people at risk for [sic] infection,” an ABK representative told Polygon. “I and many other employees are angry that our company is pushing toward mandatory returns to office with this restriction lifted.”
In a statement to IGN, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson responded, “The health and safety of our employees is at the absolute forefront of everything we do, including our return to office policy.”
“While Activision Blizzard’s U.S. vaccine mandate has been lifted, for the majority of our employees, we are still operating under a voluntary return to office opportunity,” the spokesperson revealed.
“In addition,” the spokesperson continued, “employees who are not comfortable returning to the office are encouraged to work with their manager and our HR team to explore options for working arrangements that suit their individual situations. We will continue to monitor conditions and make adjustments to the policy as needed.”
Recognizing that “some employees may be participating in a walkout to express their views,” the spokesperson concluded, “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.”
That night, just a little over 11 hours after Gonzales’ tweet, former Kotaku-turned-Bloomberg journalist Jason Schreier revealed that Activision Blizzard may have already u-turned due to this outcry.
“Following widespread backlash and a planned employee walkout,” Schreier reported, “Bulatao just sent out another email to staff saying ‘we are still operating under a voluntary return to office opportunity’ and that each of the three orgs can make its own decisions on vaccine ‘processes and policies’.”
Schreier explained, “At the same time, Blizzard boss Mike Ybarra emailed staff saying they’ll continue to require vaccination for at least the next few months and that about 80% of their employees in Irvine, Austin, and Albany have uploaded proof of vaccination”.
Sharing a GIF of The Simpsons’ Sideshow Bob continually stepping on rakes, Schreier asserted, “A source sent along new video footage of Activision Blizzard’s executive leadership team.”
In light of this news, Blizzard World of Warcraft Senior UI Engineer Valentine Powell discussed Activision Blizzard’s relenting, writing, “Breaking: Brian Bulatao has conceded to allow each studio to choose their own vaccine mandate requirements.”
“So far I’ve heard that Blizzard, QAMN [Quality Assurance Minnesota], QALA [Los Angeles], and QATX [Texas] have reinstated a vaccine mandate,” Powell claimed. “I hope to hear that all of my fellow ABK coworkers will be similarly protected.”
“This conversation has illustrated why it is so crucial for workers to have the choice to WFH [Work From Home] permanently if decisions about our health can be so casually decided without our input at a moment’s notice,” he then warned.
Powell added, “I for one will still be attending the walkout on Monday in support of the goals listed, for ALL ABK workers to have safe access to RTO, and for all ABK workers to have the option for permanent WFH.
“There are still over 20 companies under the ABK umbrella who have not yet agreed to support a vaccination mandate,” he said. “As well, this conversation has illustrated why it is so crucial for workers to have the choice to WFH permanently if decisions about our health can be so casually decided without our input at a moment’s notice.”
“This is a conversation we have been dancing around for all 5 years that I’ve worked at this company,” Powell declared, obviously talking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. “Cost of living in Irvine, the political landscape for LGBTQ and women in Texas, childcare costs, pandemic safety, health, accessibility, etc.”
Eventually drawing his thread to a close, Powell put forth, “We have spent the last two years proving that our employees can successfully produce top-quality games and services while fully remote and its past time employees were empowered to opt to WFH if they choose to.”
While Activision Blizzard have issued no further statements, the fact the ABK prompted some action and comments would suggest the union has plenty of power to get what they want.
What do you think? Let us know on social media and comments below.