Game developers need to unionize.
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Earlier this week, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick sent out an internal email that said the company would be reviewing policies and procedures in order to help promote a more inclusive workplace. This came after the company was sued by the state of California following a two-year long investigation into multiple cases of sexual harassment and discrimination. However, this email from Kotick came just prior to details being shared publicly about the now infamous "Cosby Suite" run by Blizzard employees.

Following Kotick's email, Activision Blizzard reportedly sought out the service of the law firm known as WilmerHale. This is the same firm that has been keeping Amazon workers from unionizing.

WilmerHale is the combination of two separate law firms. They include Hale and Dorr from Boston and are known for their representation of the U.S. Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. They also represented President Richard Nixon in the United States v. Nixon in 1974. The other company is Wilmer, Cutler, & Pickering. Co-founder Lloyd Cutlet was an advisor to Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The firm also represented Swiss banks that were accused of profiting from the Holocaust. They also represented German companies accused of exploiting forced labor during the Nazi era. The firms combined to form Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Door, or WilmerHale, in 2004.

Here is just a little bit about what WilmerHale does to "discourage" employees from forming unions.

WilmerHale is a BigLaw firm that publicly states that it trains workers on “union awareness and avoidance.” This is a euphemism common among anti-union firms. For workers, it translates to misinformation and intimidation. Union-busting groups at Amazon have held workers captive and made them listen to pro-employer propaganda to “sow doubts about the unionization drive.” I have worked on campaigns where anti-union consultants sat behind bus drivers, whispering lies about inflated dues and potential discipline while on the road. Gorelick’s WilmerHale seems to offer similar services, bragging about “non-lawyer HR Professionals” that it dispatches to paying clients to work on “discrete HR projects.” It is tough to imagine a clandestine HR project, but WilmerHale’s boasts about representing employers before the National Labor Relations Board and the “complete and total victory” it won defending Teradyne from discrimination suits does not build confidence.

WilmerHale’s staff proudly admits to coaching employers on how to avoid unions. Attorney Julie Murphy and Special Counsel Ariella Feingold “represent management clients” on “union avoidance strategies and union organizational campaigns” while Partner Laura Schneider “assist[s] employers with managing strikes.” Jonathan Rosenfeld, chair of the labor and employment practice, “acted as labor and employment counsel to clients in […] warehouse and distribution,” the same sector as the Amazon workers trying to organize. The firm also represented employers against distribution unions like the Teamsters, who alleged that the employer illegally coerced union members.

WilmerHale also operates a “Workforce Classification” practice, a central issue to BigTech firms like Uber and Amazon. They wrongfully claim their drivers are independent contractors to avoid basic labor protections like minimum wage and overtime rules and to skip out on providing health insurance. WilmerHale is on hand for corporations to help defang gig-workers fighting for legal recognition. They “defend clients faced with legal action from their workforce” to “protect […] an organization’s coffers” from the “legal ramifications for incorrectly classifying employees as independent contractors.” In doing so, Gorelick’s WilmerHale helps secure Big Tech’s bottom line.
The timing of Activision Blizzard working with WilmerHale is not a coincidence. Now, more than ever, employees at the company have been coming together in support of one another. They have become empowered by the public lawsuit and have been speaking out publicly against their employer and working conditions. Employees have shown solidarity with each other by mass signing a public letter condemning the initial response from Activision Blizzard. This show of solidarity continued on Wednesday when the company staged a walkout for several hours (pictured above). These actions have once again brought up the importance of forming a union to protect the workers and their rights.

The idea of forming a union was reportedly brought up in a recent all-hands meeting at Activision Blizzard. After it was brought up, Activision Blizzard executive Joshua Taub proceeded to tell employees that "the best way for protection is reaching out to your supervisors, hotline, and avenues." Of course, this idea quickly falls apart when you read the stories put forth in the lawsuit and on social media from victims that did exactly that but saw no changes and saw no punishment handed out. Activision Blizzard has since reportedly canceled all further all-hands meetings at the company.

In a statement issued to Kotaku about the relationship between Activision Blizzard and WilmerHale, an Activision Blizzard representative said, "WilmerHale has extensive experience helping organizations strengthen their workplace environment by making improvements around policies and procedures related to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation issues."

Some of the union bursting tactics to keep an eye out for have been outlined by Game Workers Unite. Some of these tactics include holding an all-hands meeting where executives will go over "standard union-busting talking points in an effort to sow fear, suspicion, and distrust." There is also the "open door" policy that allows management to maintain control over the flow of information within the workplace. There are several underhanded tactics that can and will be employed to discourage employees from unionizing that are outlined there.