As the word “union” rings around the offices of American tech companies, Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has signed a labor neutrality agreement that will help union engagement for employees at the almost-acquired Activision Blizzard.
As the deal closes for the gaming giant, Microsoft has said it’s taking a supportive stance where unions are concerned. Last week, the company said it will embrace an “open and constructive approach” to unionization if that’s the route employees want to take – not a stance other large tech companies have taken.
Microsoft signed the agreement with the Communications Workers of America union. Once the Activision Blizzard deal is a done deal, the 7,000 workers at the gaming company will be able to form a union without having first to arrange an election with the National Labor Relations Board. That can be time-consuming, as can the technical aspects of trying to unionize, something that Microsoft said it will help with if workers should go that way. This neutrality in regard to unionization is being called a first in the tech industry.
“This agreement provides a pathway for Activision Blizzard workers to exercise their democratic rights to organize and collectively bargain after the close of the Microsoft acquisition and establishes a high road framework for employers in the games industry,” said CWA President Chris Shelton. “Microsoft’s binding commitments will give employees a seat at the table and ensure that the acquisition of Activision Blizzard benefits the company’s workers and the broader video game labor market.”
Such an agreement is unprecedented in gaming, which historically has never been very keen on the idea of unions. Just recently, workers at Activision Blizzard’s Raven studio attempted to form a union, after which the company brought in a union-busting firm, and workers were exposed to regular anti-union rhetoric. The company then went to the labor board and tried to convince it that it shouldn’t allow a union election to happen.
Microsoft President Brad Smith said today that such a thing won’t happen once the acquisition goes through. He told the New York Times that the company won’t “jump in and put a thumb on the scale” if employees decide to attempt to unionize, rather the company will respect the democratic rights of workers and leave them to make the choice to unionize or not.
That certainly hasn’t been the case before within the tech industry, which at times has been somewhat hostile when employees have tried to form a union. It has happened at the warehouses of Amazon.com Inc., although just recently history was made in New York when workers voted yes to a union.
Since Microsoft is now doing things a different way under the new agreement, it may put the company in a better position when it comes to the watchful eyes of the Federal Trade Commission and antitrust regulators. It remains to be seen how friendly Microsoft will be to unions if and attempts to unionize come to a head.
Photo: Matthew Manuel/Unsplash
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