Activision Blizzard studio drops its union vote, claiming 'free and fair election impossible'

(Image credit: Proletariat)

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has dropped its request for a union vote at Activision Blizzard's Proletariat studio after accusing CEO Seth Sivak of "making a free and fair election impossible". In a statement released yesterday, the CWA accused Sivak of responding to the union push with "confrontational tactics" that "demoralized and disempowered the group," so the vote won't go ahead at all.

Dustin Yost, a software engineer at Proletariat and a member of the union organising committee, said in a statement that, although "the overwhelming majority" of his colleagues at the studio had signed cards in support of unionisation, the process "took its toll" on workers. Meetings in which the CWA claims Sivak "framed the conversation as a personal betrayal" apparently made the process too hard-going for employees to continue with.

Both Yost and the CWA negatively compared Proletariat to Microsoft Zenimax, asking why it was not possible for the Activision Blizzard-owned studio to "remain neutral, as Microsoft did at Zenimax" and allow "a free and fair process, without intimidation or manipulation by the employer".

When I reached out to Proletariat for comment on those claims, a spokesperson told me that the CWA withdrawal was an "acknowledgment that Proletariat workers didn’t actually want this," and that it validated "employees who spoke up about feeling pressured by the CWA’s campaign". Proletariat also told me it supported "confidential elections that include all affected workers and lets them vote in private, free from pressure and intimidation".

The spokesperson also said that the CWA's claims about Sivak were "totally false," and that the 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". The spokesperson claimed Sivak only acted to defend the right of employees to a private vote, so they "couldn't be targeted for their perspectives – like [Sivak] himself is being targeted by the CWA right now".

Regardless of how you interpret the story, it's worth remembering that some Proletariat employees—including Yost himself—have come out in the wake of the dropped bid to remind everyone that the studio "is full of folks with very complex [points of view]," so it's difficult to unilaterally ascribe a single set of opinions on the matter to the studio's workers as a whole. The organising committee has itself tweeted that its fiery comments reflect its own opinion, and not the broader stance of all Proletariat's workers.

Proletariat is Activision's first win in a union struggle in some time. The company lost two struggles at Raven and Blizzard Albany last year, with workers at both studios pushing for—and winning—votes to unionise despite Activision's best efforts. The company probably hopes that the failure of the Proletariat vote to get off the ground marks the point where 2022's wave of unionisations will break and roll back. I suspect Activision won't be so lucky.

Concluding his statement, Yost said that while the CWA was "withdrawing [its] union election petition today," he still believes that "a union is the best way for workers in our industry to ensure [their] voices are being heard". Proletariat, after all, has nothing to lose but its chains.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.