While two unions under Activision Blizzard continued contract negotiations, a third subsidiary began to organize. Employees based in Boston World of Warcraft support studio Proletariat tried to unite under the Communications Workers of America, just like Raven Software and Blizzard Albany before them. Workers announced their petition at the end of December, but withdrew the application on Tuesday.
A representative of Communications Workers of America issued the following statement:
CWA has withdrawn its request for a representation election at Activision Blizzard’s Proletariat studio. Unfortunately, Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak chose to follow Activision Blizzard’s lead and responded to the workers’ desire to form a union with confrontational tactics. Like many founders, he took the workers’ concerns as a personal attack and held a series of rallies that demoralized and disempowered the group, making free and fair elections impossible.
As we’ve seen in Microsoft’s Zenimax studio, there is another way forward, one that empowers employees through a free and fair process, without employer harassment or manipulation. We will continue to advocate with workers in the video game industry for better working conditions, higher standards and a union voice.
Now that the petition has been withdrawn, the workers of the Proletariat will not vote for a union.
“We appreciate that the CWA unilaterally decided to withdraw its petition in response to employee feedback,” VP Joe Christinat for media relations said in a statement to Polygon. “As we said, we welcomed the opportunity for each employee to safely express their preferences through a confidential vote. Our team at Proletariat does an extraordinary job every day. They remain focused on working with their teams to continue making the Proletariat a place where everyone can grow, prosper and be part of a great team and culture.”
Dustin Yost, a software engineer at Proletariat, said in a statement via CWA that originally the majority of workers supported the union. The employee said “meetings that framed the conversation as a personal betrayal” to management took a toll on that support. “While today we withdraw our petition for the union election and really hope that management will prioritize the concerns that led us to organize, I still believe union is the best way for workers in our industry to ensure make sure our voice is heard.” said Yost.
Proletariat Workers Alliance was looking to secure the company’s current paid leave plan as well as flexible remote options, healthcare benefits and ensuring transparency and diversity are top priorities.
“Our top priority remains our employees, and we appreciate the contributions the talented Proletariat team have made since joining Blizzard this summer,” an Activision Blizzard spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon when the petition was filed. “We received the petition over the holiday season and will provide a response to the NLRB next week.”
“At Proletariat and our colleagues across the industry, many of us love our work,” Yost, Proletariat senior engineer, told Polygon in early January, before the petition was withdrawn. “We at Proletariat care a lot about our team. We want to make sure we have a real voice in our future, to make a positive impact on our business for the benefit of our team, our company and everyone who enjoys the content we create. Doing each other good is the goal here.”
Proletariat Workers Alliance would vote with the National Labor Relations Board — the same process that both Raven Software and Blizzard Albany’s QA unions went through. Activision Blizzard contested the election in both studios’ cases, seeking to expand the proposed bargaining unit beyond QA testers.
Companies sometimes fight to expand the size of a unit to dilute union organizing efforts, to increase the likelihood that a union vote will fail. But an NLRB ruling in 2022 made it easier for organizers to unite smaller groups within a company (called micro-units), placing the onus on a company to provide overwhelming evidence that a group needs to open up.
CWA has filed multiple unfair labor complaints against Activision Blizzard for its alleged tactics to bust the unions; Activision Blizzard representatives have denied any allegations.
Seth Sivak founded Proletariat in 2012 and the studio operated independently, working on games such as Spelling breach and StreamLegends until Activision Blizzard acquired the studio in 2022. Sivak is now vice president of development at Blizzard Entertainment, overseeing the Boston-based Proletariat studio, which is now working on World of Warcraft. Allison Brown, a developer of software engineers in testing, told Polygon that union talks began before the acquisition, but around rumblings of cooperation with the company.
“There was a concern that suddenly we would become part of a larger organization that we would lose some of the things that made the Proletariat special,” Brown said.
She continued: “It doesn’t matter how much trust we have in management […], things can change. I started in the industry 14 years ago, I’ve been fired more than once. I’ve seen benefits change and get worse. There is no control over it. But when we negotiate collectively, when we get these things in writing, there are mechanisms in place to make sure we have a voice.”
After the petition was announced, the proletariat leadership published a blog refusing to recognize the proletariat’s union, forcing the union to vote with the National Labor Relations Board. The leadership of the proletariat described the company as “pro-worker” and suggested that some workers were concerned, which is why the management wanted to hold a vote.
Activision Blizzard’s response to past union efforts violated Microsoft’s so-called labor neutrality agreement. The agreement, signed with CWA, means that Microsoft will not interfere with organizing efforts at the company — neither current Microsoft employees nor those who may join Microsoft as part of the $68 deal. 7 billion to acquire Activision Blizzard (currently subject to a Federal Trade Agreement). lawsuit from the Commission).
That agreement was put to the test late last year when QA staff at ZeniMax Media, responsible for franchises such as The Elder Scrolls, Doom and Fallout, announced their intention to unite. Microsoft agreed to recognize the union after a quick vote outside the NLRB; the company was able to bypass much of the bureaucracy because of the neutrality agreement. ZeniMax QA employees voted through union authorization cards and an online portal, where a vast majority of employees pledged their support to the union.
Update (January 9): This story has been updated with commentary from Activision Blizzard.
Update (January 10): On Monday, the proletariat leadership published a blog refusing to recognize the proletariat’s union, forcing the union to vote with the National Labor Relations Board. The leadership of the proletariat described the company as ‘pro-worker’.
The Proletariat Workers Alliance disputed that, saying that not recognizing the vast majority of signed union cards is anti-union. “Their actions this week are straight out of the union-busting playbook used by Activision and so many others,” workers wrote in a statement. “Management held a town hall last week, which disappointed many of our employees. The meeting was inappropriate because of the anti-union influence.”
Workers continued: “We can decide for ourselves whether we want a union. We don’t need any help from management. We need – and deserve – respect and neutrality. We want to do good by our team and cooperate with management without strife. We can help make the proletariat the best it can be by having each other’s backs.”
Update (January 24): Workers in the Proletariat withdrew the union petition on January 24. This story has been updated to reflect that new information.
Update (January 24): Activision Blizzard responded to CWA’s withdrawn petition:
We appreciate that the CWA unilaterally decided to withdraw its petition in response to employee feedback. As we have indicated, we welcomed the opportunity for each employee to express their preferences securely through a confidential vote. Our team at Proletariat does an extraordinary job every day. They remain focused on working with their teams to continue making the proletariat a place where everyone can grow, prosper and be part of a great team and culture.