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Proletariat employees withdraw their union petition from the World of Warcraft studio.

2023-01-25  Sophia Zackary

Blizzard Entertainment-21
A third subsidiary studio of Activision Blizzard began organising as contract negotiations between two unions under the company moved forward. Like Raven Software and Blizzard Albany before them, employees at Boston-based World of Warcraft support firm Proletariat attempted to organise under the Communications Workers of America. Late in December, workers made their petition public; but, on Tuesday, they removed it.

The following comment was made by a Communications Workers of America representative:

The CWA has abandoned its bid for a representation election at the Proletariat studio of Activision Blizzard. Unfortunately, Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak followed Activision Blizzard's example and used aggressive methods to undermine the employees' desire to organise a union. Like many founders, he interpreted the workers' complaints as a personal jab, and he conducted several meetings that left the group feeling disenfranchised and depressed, making it impossible to have a free and fair election.

There is another way forward, one that empowers employees through a free and fair process, without employer intimidation or manipulation, as we have seen at Microsoft's Zenimax studio. We'll keep pushing for improved working conditions, greater standards, and a union voice alongside video game industry employees.

The petition has been withdrawn; thus Proletariat employees won't be voting on a union.

Media relations VP Joe Christinat stated in a statement to Polygon, "We appreciate that the CWA has unilaterally decided to drop its petition in response to employee feedback." "As we've said, we were happy to provide each employee with the chance to voice their opinions in a private ballot. Every day at Proletariat, our staff performs exceptional work. They are still committed to working with their employees to create Proletariat a place where everyone can develop, flourish, and become a part of a fantastic team and culture.

Software developer Dustin Yost of Proletariat stated through CWA that initially, most employees were in favour of the union. Meetings that "framed the subject as a personal betrayal," according to the employee, took a toll on that support. Even though we are withdrawing our petition for a union election today and sincerely hope that management will consider the issues that motivated us to organise, Yost said, "I still believe that a union is the best way for workers in our industry to ensure that our voices are being heard."

Proletariat Workers Alliance wanted to keep the company's present paid time off policy, as well as flexible remote choices, healthcare coverage, and a policy that prioritises openness and diversity.

In a statement given to Polygon when the petition was filed, an Activision Blizzard representative said, "Our top priority remains our employees, and we cherish the contributions the outstanding Proletariat team has made since joining Blizzard this summer." "We received the petition over the holidays and will respond to the NLRB next week," the statement reads.

Before the petition was withdrawn in early January, Proletariat senior engineer Yost told Polygon that "many of us at Proletariat and with our peers across the business, love our work." "Our staff is extremely important to us at Proletariat. To have a good influence on our business for the benefit of our team, our business, and everyone who enjoys the material we produce, we want to ensure that we have a true voice in the future. We want to treat each other fairly here.

As with the QA unions at Raven Software and Blizzard Albany, Proletariat Workers Alliance was going to be put to a vote by the National Labor Relations Board. Activision Blizzard attempted to broaden the proposed bargaining unit beyond QA testers and contested the election in both studios' situations.

To weaken unionisation efforts and raise the likelihood that a union vote would fail, businesses may push to increase the size of a unit. However, a 2022 NLRB decision made it simpler for unionising smaller groups inside an organisation (known as micro-units), placing the burden of proof on the company to demonstrate that a group should be opened up.

For its alleged union-busting practices, Activision Blizzard has been the target of much unfair labour practise accusations from CWA; Activision Blizzard spokespeople have denied any wrongdoing.

The proletariat was formed by Seth Sivak in 2012, and until Activision Blizzard acquired it in 2022, the studio ran autonomously, working on titles including Spellbreak and StreamLegends. Sivak is currently the vice president of development at Blizzard Entertainment, where he is in charge of the Boston-based Proletariat studio, where World of Warcraft is currently being developed. Software engineer Allison Brown told Polygon that union talk began not because of the acquisition but rather because of the rumblings of working for the corporation.

Being instantly a part of a larger organisation raised concerns that we would lose some of what made Proletariat unique, according to Brown.

No matter how much we trust management, she added, "things might change. I began working in the field 14 years ago, and I have experienced multiple layoffs. I've seen how benefits have evolved and gotten worse. There is no way to regulate it. But there are procedures in place to ensure that we have a say if we bargain collectively and if we receive these things in writing.

The leadership of the Proletariat union was forced to vote with the National Labor Relations Board after the Proletariat leadership wrote a blog after the petition was made public. The company's "pro-worker" stance, according to proletariat leadership, suggested that some employees had reservations, which is why management decided to take a vote.

Contrary to Microsoft's purported labour neutrality pact, Activision Blizzard has rejected prior unionisation attempts. The agreement, signed with CWA, states that Microsoft would not obstruct company-wide organising efforts, either concerning current Microsoft employees or those who might join as part of its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard (currently subject to a Federal Trade Commission lawsuit).

That arrangement was put to the test in late 2017 when QA staff at ZeniMax Media, the studio behind hit series including The Elder Scrolls, Doom, and Fallout, declared their decision to organise. After a quick vote outside of the NLRB, Microsoft decided to recognise the union; thanks to the neutrality agreement, the firm was able to avoid a lot of the red tape. Workers at ZeniMax QA cast their votes online and using union authorization cards; a resounding majority of them endorsed the union.

Update (Jan. 9): Activision Blizzard's reply has been added to this story.

Update (10 January): On Monday, the leadership of the Proletariat issued a blog in which it refused to recognise the union, forcing the union to vote with the National Labor Relations Board. The leadership of the proletariat referred to the business as "pro-worker."

The Proletariat Workers Alliance rejected that, asserting that it is anti-union to refuse to recognise the overwhelming majority of signed union cards. Workers released a statement saying that "their actions this week have been straight out of the union-busting playbook utilised by Activision and so many others." "Management hosted a town hall last week, which left many of our employees upset. Due to its anti-union bias, the meeting was inappropriate.

"We can decide for ourselves if we want a union," the workers added. We don't require management's assistance. Respect and impartiality are things we need and deserve. We want to work with management without conflict and do what is best for our team. By supporting one another, we can make Proletariat the best it can be.

The union petition was withdrawn by Proletariat employees on January 24. The information has been changed to reflect the most recent developments.

Update (Jan. 24): In response to the retracted petition from CWA, Activision Blizzard stated:

We appreciate the CWA's independent decision to drop the petition in light of employee input. As previously indicated, we were pleased to provide each employee with the chance to voice their opinions in a private ballot. Every day at Proletariat, our staff performs exceptional work. They are still committed to working with their employees to create Proletariat a place where everyone can develop, flourish, and become a part of a fantastic team and culture.

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2023-01-25  Sophia Zackary