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Proletariat withdraws election for unionization, cites CEO as cause

Proletariat CEO Seth Sivak allegedly used tactics that stopped the Proletariat Workers Union from pursuing a unionization vote.

Game developer Proletariat has withdrawn its union election. 

In a statement from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) provided to Kotaku, it was alleged that studio CEO Seth Sivak used "confrontational tactics" to dissuade workers from forming a union. It's claimed that Sivak "held a series of meetings that demoralized and disempowered the group, making a free and fair election impossible." 

Proletariat staff announced the formation of its union—the Proletariat Workers Alliance (PWA)—in late December 2022, as the company was preparing to become a part of Activision Blizzard. Recently, it was reported that Proletariat leadership wouldn't willingly recognize the union, prompting a vote via the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

"While we are withdrawing our union election petition today...I still believe that a union is the best way for workers in our industry to ensure our voices are being heard," said software engineer and PWA member Dustin Yost.

During the unionization process for Blizzard Albany and fellow subsidiary Raven Software, Activision Blizzard employed tactics such as arguing against normal labor practices applying to the video game industry and suspending the voting process. In other instances, it argued that non-QA staff should be involved in voting.

The news of Proletariat forming its own union came in the wake of Blizzard Albany's successful unionization efforts for its QA staff. It would have been the third studio to unionize under Activision Blizzard, and as Proletariat is based in Boston, the PWA got the seal of approval from Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren.

The PWA's withdrawal is a setback, but not a full defeat

Former NLRB lawyer and USC lecturer Thomas Lenz told Game Developer that if Proletariat's election withdrawal was brought about unlawfully, it may be possible for the PWA to file an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. And had the vote continued unimpeded, it could've objected the results and cited Sivak's alleged interference. 

Either way, he found withdrawing the vote may have been the smarter move, as losing would've meant Proletariat would've been legally barred from a union vote for a full year. 

"The labor board might let [the PWA] file an election in the future, about six months from now," he said. "But depending on how far that election case got, the labor board may let them refile later down the line if they wish."

It may also be possible for Blizzard Albany and Raven Software to align themselves with the PWA, said Lenz, and speak on alleged anti-union practices conducted by Activision Blizzard. But that varies from union to union, and "union density," where unions aren't present in a particular marketplace. 

That said, he recognized that unions in the game industry were being formed wholesale by employees, which he called a marked difference to joining a pre-existing union, as developer "want something more attuned to their own specific interest."

Thus far, many of the game unions that have recently formed, including the PWA, have been backed by the CWA. When asked about the latter group, it considered its involvement in game unions to be a symbiotic relationship.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that they would want to be a part of the gaming industry...and try to work together," he said. "In the end, that will benefit not only their view of what the workers need, but also their organization."

Update 1/25: This story has been updated with comment from former NLRB lawyer and USC lecturer Thomas Lenz.

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