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Activision Blizzard employees stage walkout with office Covid concerns and working-from-home demands

The company planned to stop requiring vaccination for office workers

A number of Activision Blizzard employees plan to stage a walkout today, whether in-person or virtually, to protest the company's plans for employees returning to the office amidst an ongoing global pandemic. The company initially announced last week that they would no longer require people be vaccinated in order to return, then seemed to quickly walk this back a bit in response to many employees saying excuse me, what. An employee group had announced a walkout before Actiblizz's change of heart, and apparently are going ahead today to continue conversations about safe workplaces and the option to work from home.

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"Effective immediately, we are lifting our vaccine mandate for all U.S. employees," Activision Blizzard chief administrative officer Brian Bulatao said in a Thursday e-mail to employees, which was promptly leaked. "This means that employees no longer need to be fully vaccinated in order to return to the office."

He explained, "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." A bit of a non-explanation. Later in the e-mail, he talked up "the benefits of in-person collaboration", which might be closer to the reason: concerns about profitability.

"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," Bulatao said, mere sentences after announcing a decision which reduces workplace safety.

Some employees were not best pleased about this. In response, the ABK Workers Alliance employee group announced on Friday that they would stage a walkout on Monday, and oh hey that's now today. They had three demands:

Soon after on Friday, a follow-up e-mail from Bulatao (published by The Verge) said that while the company-wide mandate for vaccination in offices was ending, individual arms of the business could decide their own policies. It's understood that four of their many studios have decided to require vaccination. And while Bulatao's e-mail noted that returning to the office was still voluntary "for the majority of [their] employees", the majority isn't all, and he did further note that a "full return" was still planned. Some employees would rather not.

With the door opened to conversations about returning to offices, some employees still plan to walk out in protest today, whether at the office or at their home desk. The ABK Workers Alliance have altered their demands, but not dropped them all. In a statement today, they demanded that the vaccine mandate be reinstated at offices which haven't yet committed to it, and for remote working to be an option for all employees.

They encourage people taking part in the walkout to tweet under the hashtags #SickOfThis and #ActiblizzWalkout for all to see, if you want to see (though obvs public hashtags can contain other, less pleasant things too). At this point, it's not clear how many have joined the walkout.

Update: The group have since said that while in-person demonstrations were cancelled "due to weather conditions and some members falling ill over the weekend", a digital demonstration went ahead, and 117 employees walked out virtually.

Activision Blizzard's weak response to the many, many publicised allegations of workplace discrimination, harrassment, and abuse has galvanised many employees into organising to push for widespread change. They have spoken up, started petitions, and staged several walkouts, and some at Raven Software are attempting to unionise following layoffs. Even several US senators are on their side. I don't imagine it'll stop with pandemic concerns either. Change is long overdue in the games industry.

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