Blizzard studio halts union plans due to alleged management meddling (Updated)

Spellbreakillustrating union members dodging alleged management interference.”/>

Enlarge / A scene from the Proletariat Spellbreak illustrates union members dodging alleged management interference.

Last month, workers at Spellbreak Studio Proletariat became the third group within Activision Blizzard to form a union. Today, however, the Communication Workers of America is backtracking on its push for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election that could have forced parent company Activision Blizzard to recognize the union. In that regard, the CWA cites actions by Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak that have made “a free and fair election impossible.”

In a statement provided to Ars Technica, a CWA spokesperson said Sivak “chose to follow Activision Blizzard’s lead and responded to workers’ desire to form a union with confrontational tactics.” Those tactics include “a series of meetings that demoralized and demoralized the group,” according to the CWA.

Proletariat software engineer Dustin Yost said in an accompanying statement that these executive meetings “took their toll” on the group by “casting the conversation as a personal betrayal rather than (to) respect our right to join together to protect ourselves and have a seat at the table…”

Proletariat said last month that an “overwhelming majority” of workers at the studio signed cards in support of a union. But Activision Blizzard refused to voluntarily recognize the union, leading to the CWA push for an NLRB election to force the issue in the weeks leading up to today’s turn.

Under NLRB rules, it is illegal for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees” who are trying to unionize. But despite talk of management’s “confrontational tactics” here, the CWA has not announced that it has filed any unfair labor practice complaints with the NLRB over this type of violation.

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, QA workers at Blizzard Albany won their NLRB election for recognition.

Contrary to these studies, however, Proletariat pushed for a union representing all non-management employees, not just those in the quality assurance department. That has apparently led to reports of internal strife over the speed and breadth of union organizing efforts at the Boston-based studio.

In response to a request for comment, Activision Blizzard’s VP of Media Relations Joe Christinat said the company “welcomed the opportunity for each employee to safely express their preferences through a confidential poll. Our team at Proletariat does extraordinary work every day. They remain focused to work with their teams to continue to make Proletariat a place where everyone can grow, thrive and be part of a great team and culture.”

(Update (January 25): Speaking to Ars Technica, Chritinat said claims of “confrontational tactics” by Sivak are “completely false.”

“The Proletariat CEO was responding to concerns from employees who felt pressured or intimidated by the CWA and wanted more information about what joining a union might mean,” he said. “He defended his employees’ right to express their true preferences in a private vote so they could not be targeted for their perspectives — just as he himself is being targeted by the CWA right now in public statements.”

In a statement distributed to the press earlier this month, a Blizzard spokesperson said that “some employees said they felt pressured to sign union cards, were inadequately informed about what they were signing and what it meant when they signed… We want to ensure that all employees can make their voice heard as it is their decision.”

After launching the smart magic based battle royale game Spellbreak in 2020, Proletariat was purchased by Activision Blizzard last June and moved into creating content for World of Warcraft.

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