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Activision Blizzard to Pay $18 Million to Victims of Harassment and Discrimination

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According to the Los Angeles Times, Activision Blizzard has agreed to set up an $18-million fund for employees who experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, pregnancy discrimination or retaliation as part of a settlement with a federal employment agency.

The consent decree, which a federal judge said she intended to sign following a hearing Tuesday, comes in response to a lawsuit filed against the Santa Monica, Calif. video game company in September by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which alleged that Activision employees were subject to “severe” and “pervasive” sexual harassment in the workplace.

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Anyone who worked at the company after September 2016 and believes that they were subject to harassment, discrimination or retaliation will be eligible to apply for a share of the cash payout. The company officially denied all wrongdoing as part of the settlement, which also included requirements for regular audits overseen by the federal agency over the next three years, changes to workplace policies and anti-harassment trainings.

To receive money from the $18-million fund, however, recipients must sign a document that waives their rights to recover any monetary damages or other relief that may come from the California lawsuit for sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination or related retaliation.

Activision Blizzard’s major franchises include “Call of Duty,” “Warcraft,” “Overwatch,” “Hearthstone” and “Candy Crush.” The company reported revenues of $8.8 billion in 2021. Microsoft announced its plan to buy the company for $68.7 billion in January.

U.S. Economy Adds 431,000 Jobs in March

The United States had sizable payroll gains last month, as the economy added 431,000 jobs in March, according to the Labor Department’s jobs report released on Friday.

The unemployment rate fell to 3.6% from 3.8% in February and average hourly earnings were up 0.4% month-over-month and 5.6% year-over-year. February’s jobs report was also revised upwardly to 750,000 jobs added.

Leisure and hospitality employers added back 112,000 jobs to build on a jump of 179,000 from February, with more job growth seen in food services and drinking venues at 61,000, and accommodation at 25,000. Notably, retail trade employment rose by 49,000 to reach 278,000 above its level in February 2020. The manufacturing industry saw 38,000 new jobs added or created during the period.

Despite the positive momentum, concerns around workforce participation still linger.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that job openings last month remained near record levels, and the number of workers voluntarily leaving their positions increased. According to the latest reportfrom the U.S. Labor Department, there were about 11.3 million job openings in February, essentially the same as the month before and down a little from a record in December, though the number of hires overall edged up by 263,000 last month, to about 6.7 million.

“Many of those jobs will take years to come back and even if restaurants and bars and amusement parks wanted to increase staff, they wouldn’t be able to because of the millions of labor force dropouts from baby boomers retiring at the age of 65,” FWDBONDS chief economist Christopher Rupkey told Yahoo Finance. “The economy will run into a wall if it can’t get any more workers, and economic growth is already slowing down to a crawl this quarter."

There are still roughly 3 million or so people who have not returned to the work force, according to the government data.

“Looking at how poorly our labor force has grown so far this year, if companies want to win the war for talent they need to engage the people who may not be actively seeking work right now, or be the first option people see when they do return,” Ron Hetrick, a senior economist at Emsi Burning Glass, a data and research company, wrote in a note.

Staten Island Workers Vote for Amazon’s First Unionized Warehouse in U.S.

CNBC has reported that employees at an Amazon warehouse on New York’s Staten Island voted Friday to join a union, a groundbreaking move for organized labor and a stinging defeat for the e-commerce giant, which has aggressively fought unionization efforts at the company.

While the official vote tally hasn’t been announced, the union’s lead is large enough that remaining and contested ballots are unlikely to sway the outcome of the election. The latest tally, according to a union organizer, is 2,350 in favor of joining and 1,912 opposed.

The Staten Island facility, known as JFK8, employs roughly 6,000 workers. It’s the first time an Amazon facility in the U.S. has successfully voted to unionize. The election result still needs to be formally certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

By voting in the Amazon Labor Union, Staten Island workers could challenge Amazon’s current labor model, which is the backbone of its Prime two-day shipping promise. Unions stand to disrupt the level of control that Amazon exerts over its warehouse and delivery employees, like their ability to unilaterally set the pace of work and hourly wages, labor experts previously told CNBC.

Amazon still faces another labor battle at its Bessemer, Ala. warehouse. The NLRB called for a do-over election last November after it determined Amazon improperly interfered in the first election, which was held last spring.

Condé Nast Staffers Form Union

More than 350 employees at Condé Nast — the publisher of magazine titles such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ — are requesting the company voluntarily recognize their union, which would organize under the NewsGuild of New York.

According to the Washington Post, “the union would cover more than 500 editorial, production and video workers across 11 publications, including Bon Appétit, Architectural Digest and Allure.” Those leading the effort say nearly 80 percent of eligible workers have indicated support, said the publication.

Those unionizing say they are looking for salary transparency, more generous raises and bolstered job security for longtime subcontracted employees. Another goal is to create a diversity committee to review salary and hiring data, and guaranteeing that at least half of job candidates come from underrepresented groups.

Condé spokesman Patrick Maks said the company plans “to have productive and thoughtful conversations with [the unionizing workers] over the coming weeks to learn more.”

Applebee’s Exec Fired for Leaked Email to Lower Restaurant Pay

A leaked email from a mid-level executive at an Applebee’s franchise group predicting that inflation and higher gasoline costs would help the restaurants attract employees for lower wages recently created a stir on social media, according to reports from the Kansas City Star.

The email, sent from Wayne Pankratz, executive director of operations for Applebee’s restaurants, led managers of a Lawrence, Kan. restaurant to resign in protest, and provoked outrage on Reddit, where it appeared under the headline, “Applebee’s Executie (sic) claims higher gas prices make people more desperate so we can pay them less.” The email drew more than 60,000 comments in the first nine hours after someone posted it on the subreddit called Antiwork.

American Franchise Capital, based in Atlanta with offices in Kansas City, owns more than 100 Applebee’s and Taco Bell restaurants in the Midwest.

“Most of our employee base and potential employee base live paycheck to paycheck,” Pankratz wrote fellow executives on March 6. “Any increase in gas prices cuts into their disposable income. As inflation continues to climb and gas prices continue to go up, that means more hours employees will need to work to maintain their current level of living.”

He went on to say that those rising costs, and the fact that people have run out of government stimulus money and extended unemployment benefits, will work to the advantage of companies like AFC. Furthermore, he wrote, the company’s small, mom-and-pop competitors are going to face some tough choices under the current business conditions and will either have to raise prices or pay employees less to hit their profit margins.

“Some businesses will not be able to hold on,” Pankratz wrote. “This is going to drive more potential employees into the hiring pool.” As that happens, employees won’t be able to demand the $18 to $20 an hour many were getting when the demand for workers outstripped supply. “The labor market is about to turn in our favor,” Pankratz concluded. “What can you do? Besides hiring employees in at a lower wage to decrease our labor (when able) make sure you have a pulse on the morale of your employees…”

Earlier this week, Applebee’s corporate confirmed that Pankratz had been terminated over the leaked email.

“This is the opinion of an individual, not Applebee’s,” said Applebee’s COO Kevin Carroll in a statement to Restaurant Business. “The individual has been terminated by the franchisee who owns and operates the restaurants in this market. Our team members are the lifeblood of our restaurants, and our franchisees are always looking to reward and incentivize team members, new and current, to remain within the Applebee’s family.”


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