Stepping into the labor conversation, Microsoft said Thursday it recognized employees’ right to form and join a union but believed its own workers “will never need to organize” to facilitate conversations with executives and leaders.
Seemingly unprompted, the Redmond-based company announced that it is poised to respond if a union effort does crop up, writing in a blog post that recent campaigns across the country and in the tech industry have “led us to conclude that inevitably these issues will touch on more businesses, potentially including our own.”
“None of us ever knows precisely what challenges the future will bring,” Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith wrote. “But we’re willing to bet that a company that listens to and works well with its employees is likely to have a winning hand.”
A spokesperson for Microsoft said the company is not aware of any active union campaigns among its workforce. The spokesperson did not elaborate on why the company issued a statement.
But if Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of gaming company Activision Blizzard goes through, Microsoft will inherit a small group of unionized software workers.
Employees at Raven Software, a gaming studio that is part of Activision Blizzard, voted to unionize in May, marking the first union at the company that is known for popular games like Call of Duty and Candy Crush. The union, the Game Workers Alliance, includes nearly 30 quality assurance testers and will be part of the larger union Communications Workers of America.
Activision Blizzard denied the union’s request for voluntary recognition and has since been accused of attempting to break the union and violating labor law by intimidating workers.
Ahead of its union vote, the group of gaming workers sent a letter to Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella asking if Microsoft would voluntarily recognize a union and or put any conditions on the collective bargaining process. In response, Microsoft has said that it will not stand in the way if Activision Blizzard recognizes a union.
Now, Microsoft is going a step further by publicly listing its “principles for employee organizing and engagement with labor organizations.” The four guiding principles are:
- Listening to employees’ concerns,
- Recognizing that employees have a legal right to choose whether to form or join a union,
- Committing to creative and collaborative approaches with unions when it is “presented with a specific union proposal,”
- And, maintaining a close relationship and shared partnership with employees, “including those represented by a union.”
In the statement, Smith committed to collaborating in efforts that “will make it simpler rather than more difficult for our employees to make informed decisions and to exercise their legal right to choose whether to form or join a union.”
“We acknowledge that this is a journey, and we will need to continue to learn and change as employee expectations and views change with the world around us,” he continued.
As union campaigns are cropping up in the retail and restaurant industry — including REI, Amazon, Starbucks and Verizon — interest in organizing appears to be growing among tech workers. A 2021 survey from news outlet Protocol and market research firm Morning Consult found half of participating tech workers were inclined to join a union.
Workers at independent game developer Vodeo Games formed the first video game studio union in North America in December. Communications Workers of America launched CODE in 2020, a project to start organizing digital employees. A group of Google workers formed the Alphabet Workers Union under that umbrella in January 2021.
“Microsoft’s public statement of respect for its employees’ freedom to form a union is encouraging and unique among the major tech companies,” CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens said in a statement. “In order to truly give workers a legally protected voice in decisions that affect them and their families, these principles must be put into action.”
In the tech industry, most workers that are organizing are doing so around issues of harassment, discriminatory pay practices and “crunch” time, the days leading up to the release of a game that are filled with overtime hours and pressure on the workers to move quickly.
Liz Shuler, president of AFL-CIO, said “Microsoft’s collaborative approach to working with its employees who seek to organize is a best practice that we look forward to seeing implemented at Microsoft and other companies.”
Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard has put some advocacy groups on edge. The UNI Global Union, a union federation, said Thursday statement the merger could weaken workers’ collective power, offer fewer alternate options for workers looking to change jobs and keep wages and benefits low.
Video game workers are delivering “a strong message to the titans of the sector: it’s time to fight for our rights — we are going union,” Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, said in the statement. Merging Microsoft and Activision Blizzard “could have a negative impact for thousands of workers in a sector where there is an increasing interest in forming unions and improving often appalling working conditions.”
When Microsoft first announced its intent to acquire the gaming company, ABK Workers Alliance, a group of workers from Activision Blizzard, said it remains committed to fighting for workplace improvements and workers’ rights “regardless of who is financially in control of the company.”
“We will continue to work alongside our allies across the gaming industry to push for measurable changes in an industry that desperately needs it,” the group said in a Twitter thread. “Whatever the leadership structure of the company, we will continue our push to #EndAbuseInGaming.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when The UNI Global Union issued a statement about Microsoft.
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