Activision Blizzard CEO's $30M Pay Under Fire From Labor Union: "Like Legal Highway Robbery"

Bobby Kotick-Getty-H 2019
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The AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, Liz Shuler, is calling on the SEC to "take action on corporate executives who abuse stock buybacks for their own personal gain."

The AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of unions, has taken aim at Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and his annual compensation in 2018 following a massive round of layoffs earlier this year which saw nearly 800 employees lose their jobs.

AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler, in a statement published Tuesday, highlighted Kotick's financial compensation in 2018 — which was $30.8 million, the majority of which came from stock options ($19 million) — saying, "This is like legal highway robbery."

Activision Blizzard has called 2019 a "transition year" (net revenue for the first quarter was down to $1.83 billion, compared to $1.97 billion from the same period in 2018) and, in January, announced a stock buyback program that would authorize the company to purchase $1.5 billion worth of stock ahead of cutting 750 jobs in February. In May 2018, the company made an aggregate cash dividend payment of $259 million to "shareholders of record" at the close of business on March 30, 2018, according to a recent SEC filing.

Shuler claims that such stock buybacks and payments help C-suite execs "artificially meet their incentive pay targets." She calls on the SEC to "take action on corporate executives who abuse stock buybacks for their own personal gain."

"For too long, corporate greed and rigged economic rules have created a relentlessly growing pay gap between CEOs and the rest of us," Shuler writes. "It’s why everything from a college education to retirement security to gas prices are getting harder and harder for people to afford. We see it every day in communities across the country. And that must change."

Shuler has been vocal in her call for unionization for game developers in the past, penning an open letter on the issue for Kotaku in February. In her statement on Tuesday, Shuler claims that “Activision Blizzard staff are trying to unionize.” No reports of such efforts at the company have been made public. When asked by The Hollywood Reporter, a representative for the AFL-CIO said Shuler's claim was a "reference to the general grassroots work/advocacy that's going on in the industry."

A request for comment from Activision Blizzard was not immediately returned.