The Strategic Organizing Center (formerly Change to Win) is a democratic coalition of four labor unions: Service Employees International Union (SEIU), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Communications Workers of America (CWA) and United Farmworkers of America (UFW). Together, SOC-affiliated unions represent more than 4 million workers. In an interview with Slate, SOC’s research director, Richard Clayton, explained how engagement over excessive CEO pay at Activision Blizzard became something broader when a state suit over mistreatment of women at the company revealed the necessity for more systemic change.
Our focus was initially on excessive executive pay, on unreasonably rewarding executives for levels of performance that we didn’t think warranted the kind of repeat awards that were given out, or awards of that size. But that said, we’d always been cognizant of the fact that there were real issues in the workplaces of the video gaming industry.
We’ve heard for many years about sexual harassment, racial harassment. We’ve heard about “crunch” and the intense difficulty that presents to workers in terms of trying to have any kind of a work-life balance. But up until pretty recently, we knew about the culture of crunch in a vague, general way within the gaming industry. What we really learned from the state of California lawsuit was both that those problems were genuinely acute and severe at Activision Blizzard, that senior management at the very least had been repeatedly informed and made aware of those serious abusive practices throughout the organization, and that it had allowed those practices to go unaddressed for many, many years.
Once the litigation was filed by the state, it became clear that a large number of Activision Blizzard employees were willing to take action to try to address those problems. So we felt as a shareholder, it was important for us to communicate to the board that we did not believe that the company’s responses to that lawsuit or to activity by workers was sufficient and that they needed to do additional things, and if they weren’t going to do additional things, that we would continue and really escalate the shareholder activity that we’d already been undertaking in the vote-nos against executive pay.
What we’re implicitly suggesting is that we’re going to be campaigning harder against the re-election of incumbent directors if the board doesn’t make significant changes between now and next year’s annual meeting. That’s the framework within which we approach it. Our view is that our funds generally don’t have the ability to escape a bad company. They’ve got to try to fix a bad company. So our engagements are focused on the people who have the most authority in the company, the board of directors, and demanding that they be accountable for their own decision-making or their failure to appropriately hold accountable senior management when it’s engaged in irresponsible practices.Activision Blizzard, sued for its workplace culture, is facing investor pressure from the Strategic Organizing Center.