Several employees of Card Kingdom, one of the largest retailers of Magic: The Gathering singles in the US, have accused their employer of maintaining a culture of severe overworking, unsafe conditions that include inadequate facilities and a general mismanagement that they allege keeps workers stuck in underpaid, dead-end positions.
Five employees of various Card Kingdom locations in King County, Seattle spoke to Dicebreaker under anonymity, detailing a shift in the company’s attitude and messaging over the course of the pandemic. In a statement to Dicebreaker, Card Kingdom strenuously denied that there is any general mismanagement or a culture of unsafe or negligent practices. Employees we spoke to said internal emails extolling the “financial highs" the company has achieved over the past three years did not match their pay, opportunities, physical working conditions, nor the excuse that “we haven’t recovered from COVID" commonly used against requests to solve, or at least ameliorate, long-standing issues within the company.
Every worker who spoke to Dicebreaker described the now-pervasive “flex” system used to compensate sorely-needed labour in various departments. Documents provided to Dicebreaker show supervisors and shift leads from several departments regularly requesting between 25 and 70 hours of additional labour per day through a dedicated internal messaging app. When another lead would accept this request, their workers “flex” into the missing roles to help fulfil online orders, sort mail or complete other necessary work and then return to their actual positions to begin making up for the lost time.
The employees claimed flexing has been an issue since at least the autumn of 2021 but grew progressively worse as Card Kingdom’s employee retention continued to deteriorate. Reportedly, one of the hardest hit sections were the overnight teams who fulfil online orders by pulling MTG singles from their expansive inventory, called “picking”. The repetitive work, lack of ergonomic support and huge influx of orders over the past three years has put particular strain on this department - in one case allegedly leading to the majority of an overnight team resigning together, including a supervisor.
“They cannot retain staff for the life of them,” one worker said. “These people quit on the spot or just walk out because the job sucks. People are standing in one spot, shuffling back and forth forever. And instead of offering anybody more money to work that job, [Card Kingdom management] just keeps pouring people into it from other departments.”
Another worker emphasised that some positions require special training or knowledge, but nearly all job descriptions are ignored under the daily need to somehow squeeze three to five extra hours of work from each employee’s eight-hour day. None of the flexed workers receive overtime, bonuses or extra compensation and are still held accountable for meeting personal and departmental metrics. The result was described as an overworked, stressed workforce that dreads each day because, as one worker put it, they never know where, and for how long, they will be pulled away from their own jobs.
Card Kingdom told employees in an April 23rd town hall meeting that a temp agency would soon be contracted to fill these gaps with new fulltime labour, which the workers who spoke to Dicebreaker said left many worried their own positions were now at risk.
Warehouse workers are also concerned about the lack of COVID-19 safety regulations, which were significantly relaxed earlier this year to match King County’s reduced guidelines. The county dropped its mask mandate on March 12th, which prompted the Card Kingdom safety committee to send a written appeal to management - documentation of which was provided to Dicebreaker - asking to keep theirs in place. It claimed warehouse workers already spent the majority of their day in close proximity and felt safer wearing masks. One worker said company leadership ignored that request and dropped its mask policy - regardless of vaccination status - on the very next day before the director of HR promptly left on vacation.
All of the employees who spoke to Dicebreaker voiced frustration with leadership and executives that they claim ignore or minimise the physical working conditions in warehouses while they continue to primarily work remotely. One worker said their warehouse was the target of a recent break-in, and claimed afterwards the door was simply boarded over until more permanent repairs could be scheduled. Half of the worker’s team relocated elsewhere, saying they no longer felt safe - not due to the break-in but because the boarded-over door was reportedly the primary fire escape for that section of the warehouse.
“Half of us are choosing to work there, even though it's dangerous, because we prefer to work in our own space,” the employee said. “It's a good example of how improvements being made in the workplace at a snail's pace is a little bit of a problem. You can only be told we're working on it for so long before you start to recognise a pattern.”
Another worker said they asked a vice president directly to install more restrooms for their warehouse of roughly 30 workers, which shared a single facility with the kitchen of a Mox Boarding House (Card Kingdom’s line of combination bar-cafe and games stores) and four other departments. The VP reportedly provided temporary portable toilets with sinks, but the employee remains sceptical that a more permanent solution is anywhere close.
“This is not the first time that we’ve used porta potties,” they said. “What happens is [management] waits until they hear a little bit less about it and then take them away.”
Employees told Dicebreaker that Card Kingdom failed to provide adequate HR representation for the Ballard warehouse location, leading to several notable issues and a general loss of trust in both immediate leadership and those higher up. The previous domestic contact from the HR department was reportedly fired on February 2nd, and a replacement was not hired until April 18th. During the interim, HR representatives held sporadic and inconsistent “office hours” while leaving untrained managers and supervisors to handle daily interpersonal issues.
One employee said this situation created a lot of unnecessary tension and problems within teams, and that several of them overheard an operations manager who was informed of a serious HR complaint tell an assistant manager that they needed the assistant manager to “just deal with this”. Repeated cases where the workers felt managers acted with zero empathy or care led to problems going unreported due to a lack of faith in their finding an equitable solution.
The alleged general mismanagement affected Card Kingdom’s workforce on a number of levels, as the workers who spoke to Dicebreaker described a convoluted system of pay bands and wage caps that lock workers in low-paying positions and obfuscate an individual’s benefits. Every employee is classified along a four point scale - L1 through L4 - which the workers claimed limits what benefits and pay bands individuals can access. Applications to move up this scale, and therefore gain access to higher pay bands, are controlled by supervisors - leading to claims that advancing often feels like playing a game of favouritism. Neither of these systems was described in the 2020 employee handbook provided to Dicebreaker.
Employees can’t rely on work history alone to automatically push them up this L-scale, and they said Card Kingdom seems content in letting people’s wages pool at the top end of each bracket, effectively controlling who gets to ascend. “They coordinated end-of-year raises with raising the pay bands. People's raise was just them expanding the pay band,” one employee said. “So when they should have been bumped up even higher, they were just at the new base pay. Now there's people who have worked here for longer than new hires that are getting paid less.”
Other employees claimed the benefits allowed at each employee level seemed to differ depending on the supervisor. One worker relayed an anecdote of a woman scheduling family care leave in anticipation of having a child, which her supervisor approved. But when the time came, she was told that only L4 employees have access to maternity leave. This is in direct violation of the US Department of Labor’s Family and Medical Leave Act and does not match the paid parental leave outlined in Card Kingdom’s employee handbook as seen by Dicebreaker, but nearly all who spoke to Dicebreaker said they felt benefits were never adequately explained to them - a tactic they feel was intentional.
“One of my coworkers was actually disciplined about how to use his PTO, because we were sending over a lot of help to production,” one employee said. “And his body couldn't take it anymore; he was kind of fed up. So he called out one day, and then the next day he was disciplined for it, which I think is against company policy.”
The resulting atmosphere has left all of the workers who spoke with Dicebreaker disillusioned with Card Kingdom executives’ ability to listen to their concerns, much less solve them. They claimed poor communication runs throughout the company, as evidenced by the fact that none of the workers of the Bellevue Mox Boarding House location have been told that the lease on their facility was not renewed, despite Ballard staff openly discussing it for months. They said this puts the jobs of everyone at Bellevue at risk, and thus they have a right to know.
Card Kingdom’s workers announced their intentions to seek union membership with the UFCW 3000 on April 21st. As of May 10th they had collected a majority of union cards and submitted a request to management and ownership for voluntary recognition. Management has yet to respond to the nascent union, who will proceed to a vote on May 17th, but CEO John Morris did provide a statement to Dicebreaker when contacted for comment on the allegations brought forth by their workers and detailed above. That response in full is relayed below:
While we will not make specific comments on the individual accounts provided, we will say that many of these accounts do not match our company policies or the lived experiences of many of our employees both current and former.
Card Kingdom centers its business on the communities and stakeholders we serve. Our partners, suppliers, communities, customers, and employees are all part of Card Kingdom's success - and our company has committed to strengthening our relationships and impact on these groups. This commitment is embodied in our company mission and values:
Our Mission: We use tabletop gaming as a campfire to cultivate deeper relationships with ourselves, our communities, and the world.
We believe that our most important asset as a company is our employees. They bring our company mission and values to life every day, creating exceptional experiences for our customers and communities. This belief drives many of our company's goals and programs - from our work with Gamers Engaged to the ongoing transition of company equity through the Employee Stock Ownership Program.
We strive to make our company flexible, responsive, and empathetic. We also pride ourselves on creating an inclusive, welcoming culture within our stores, locations, and offices. This means addressing the individual needs of our employees, providing growth opportunities, and co-creating solutions when we see a problem. We have always tried to hear the voices and concerns of our employees, and we are eager to continue listening.
Moreover, we have always been eager to find concrete solutions that address the individual needs of our employees.
Efforts to unionize and any company responses to such efforts are complex and bound by federal laws and regulations. These conversations take time and require complete information and understanding. We will continue working with our legal counsel to understand this complexity and arrive at an intentional, thoughtful, and employee-centered way forward.
First and foremost, Card Kingdom respects employees' rights under U.S. law to support a union. U.S. law also expressly recognizes employee rights to refrain from union support, and Card Kingdom will respect the rights of those employees as well. Additionally, U.S. law provides a process for a secret ballot election to determine whether a majority of employees desire to unionize. That is sacrosanct. Card Kingdom will respect employees' rights to utilize that process.
Card Kingdom was started because of our passion for Magic: The Gathering, and we are proud of what we have built over the last 20 years. Card Kingdom is about building community and sharing this passion for tabletop games. We embrace this mission through intentional business practices that respect the rights and well-being of every Card Kingdom employee.