Activision Blizzard studio Proletariat to form union
As two unions under Activision Blizzard move forward in contract negotiations, a third subsidiary studio is being organized. Workers at Boston-based World of Warcraft support studio Proletariat are unionizing under the Communications Workers of America, like Raven Software and Blizzard Albany before them. The Proletariat Group of 57 workers, which includes all studio positions except management, is called the Proletariat Workers Alliance. They announced their petition in late December.
Activision Blizzard did not respond to the voluntary disclosure request.
The Proletariat Workers Alliance is seeking to ensure the company’s current paid time off plan, as well as flexible remote options, health care benefits and ensuring transparency and diversity are top priorities. Activision Blizzard did not respond to Polygon’s request for comment.
“At Proletariat and with our colleagues across the industry, many of us love our jobs,” Proletariat senior engineer Dustin Yost told Polygon. “We at Proletariat care a lot about our team. We want to make sure we have a real voice in our future so that we can have a positive impact on our company for the benefit of our team, our company and everyone who enjoys the content we create. Making good out of each other is the goal here.”
With Activision Blizzard’s union recognition pending, the Proletariat Workers Alliance will likely go to a vote with the National Labor Relations Board — the same process that both Raven Software’s QA and Blizzard Albany unions went through. Activision Blizzard challenged the election in both studios’ cases and sought to expand the proposed bargaining unit beyond QA testers.
Companies sometimes fight to expand the size of a unit to reduce union organizing efforts, increasing the probability of union voting failure. But an NLRB ruling in 2022 made it easier for organizers to bring together smaller groups within a company (called micro-units), which puts the onus on a company to provide overwhelming evidence that a group should be opened.
The CWA has filed numerous unfair labor complaints against Activision Blizzard for its alleged union-busting tactics; Activision Blizzard representatives have denied any wrongdoing. For Proletariat, the expanded unit is likely not a problem: The group is already seeking to include all non-managerial workers.
Seth Sivak founded Proletariat in 2012 and the studio operated independently, working on games like Spellbreak and StreamLegends until Activision Blizzard bought the studio in 2022. Sivak is now vice president of development at Blizzard Entertainment, overseeing the Proletariat-based studio in Boston. now working on World of Warcraft. Allison Brown, a software engineering developer in testing, told Polygon that the union talks began before the acquisition, but around labor rumblings with the company.
“There was a concern that suddenly becoming part of a larger organization that we might lose some of the things that made Proletariat special,” Brown said.
She continued: “No matter how much confidence we have in management […], things can change. I started in the industry 14 years ago, I’ve been laid off more than once. I have seen the benefits change and worsen. There is no control over it. But if we negotiate collectively, if we get these things in writing, there are mechanisms in place to make sure we have a voice.”
Raven Software and Blizzard Albany won their union votes in 2022. The next step for them is to negotiate a contract with Activision Blizzard; both unions will have separate contracts. If the workers of the Proletariat vote in favor of their union, they will do the same, again with their separate contract.
Activision Blizzard’s response to previous unionization efforts has been in contrast to Microsoft’s so-called labor neutrality agreement. The agreement, signed with the CWA, means Microsoft will not interfere with organizing efforts at the company — neither with current Microsoft employees, nor with workers who may join Microsoft as part of its $68.7 billion deal. to buy Activision Blizzard (currently subject to a Federal Trade Commission Lawsuit).
That deal was tested late last year when QA workers at ZeniMax Media, responsible for franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Doom and Fallout, announced their intention to unionize. Microsoft agreed to recognize the merger after a quick vote outside the NLRB; the company was able to bypass a lot of red tape because of the neutrality agreement. ZeniMax QA workers voted through union proxy cards and an online portal, where a large majority of workers pledged support for the union.
“Proletariat as a company has always had strong values of transparency and respectful cooperation and understand why those values are important to us,” Yost said. “We believe that unionization is the culmination of these values and we want to work in cooperation with management. We hope they will choose to remain neutral and voluntarily recognize our union.”