Last month, workers at Spelling breach studio Proletariat became the third group within Activision Blizzard to form a union. Today, however, the Communication Workers of America is retreating in its push for an election of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that could have forced parent company Activision Blizzard to recognize that union. In doing so, the CWA cites actions by Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak as “making free and fair elections impossible”.
In a statement to Ars Technica, a CWA spokesman said Sivak “chose to follow Activision Blizzard’s lead and responded to the workers’ desire to form a union with confrontational tactics.” Those tactics included “a series of meetings that demoralized and disempowered the group,” according to the CWA.
Proletariat Software Engineer Dustin Yost said in an accompanying statement that those management meetings “took their toll” on the group through “fram[ing] the conversation instead as personal betrayal [of] respecting our right to come together to protect ourselves and sit at the table…”
Proletariat said last month that an “overwhelming majority” of workers in the studio signed cards in support of a union. But Activision Blizzard refused to voluntarily recognize the union, prompting the CWA push for an NLRB election to force the issue in the weeks before today’s reversal.
Under NLRB rules, it is illegal for an employer to “impede, restrain, or coerce any employee” attempting to join a union. But despite the talk of management’s “confrontational tactics” here, the CWA has not announced that it has filed unfair labor practices complaints with the NLRB over these types of violations.
Too much too fast?
Last May, QA testers at Activision Blizzard studio Raven Software won a similar NLRB election to become the first fully recognized union in the US gaming industry. In December, Blizzard Albany QA employees won their NLRB election to gain recognition.
However, unlike those studios, the Proletariat pushed for a union representing all non-management employees, not just those in the quality assurance department. That has seemingly led to reports of internal disagreement over the speed and scope of the unionizing effort at the Boston-based studio.
In response to a request for comment, Joe Christinat, Activision Blizzard’s VP of Media Relations, said the company “welcome the opportunity for each employee to safely express their preferences through a confidential vote. Our team at Proletariat does every day extraordinary work. They remain focused on working with their teams to continue making the proletariat a place where everyone can grow, thrive and be part of a great team and culture.”
[Update (Jan. 25): Speaking to Ars Technica, Chritinat said that allegations of “confrontational tactics” from Sivak are “totally false.”
“The Proletariat CEO was responding to concerns from employees who felt pressured or intimidated by CWA and wanted more information about what joining a union could mean,” he said. “He was defending his employees’ right to express their true preferences in a private vote, so they couldn’t be targeted for their perspectives—like he himself is being targeted by the CWA right now in public statements.”]
In a statement released to the press earlier this month, a Blizzard spokesperson said that “some employees said they felt pressured to sign union cards, were not adequately informed about what they were signing and what it meant when they signed. .. We want to make sure all employees have their say because this is their decision.”
After launching the smart magic based battle royale game Spelling breach in 2020, Proletariat was purchased by Activision Blizzard last June and moved into creating content for World of Warcraft.