Microsoft is bucking a tech industry trend by announcing that it won’t oppose the efforts of its employees to form unions. In a June 2 blog post, Microsoft President and Vice Chair Brad Smith announced that the company wants to be proactive about the changing expectations around work and the wave of unionization efforts in the tech sector.
In the blog post, Smith recognizes the changing workplace environment and that a constructive approach to employee concerns and potential unionization will be better for everyone down the line. The post goes on to codify a number of principles that Microsoft wants to enshrine about its stance on unionization, including recognizing the rights of employees to form unions or join existing ones, and a commitment to maintain a close relationship with all of its employees, including those that choose to unionize.
The first real test of this commitment is coming soon, with Microsoft having just entered a labor neutrality agreement with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union concerning Activision Blizzard, coming into effect 60 days after Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard closes. The agreement guarantees that Microsoft won’t get in the way of ActiBlizz employees that wish to organize or join a union, or wish to discuss organizing with other employees, and that confidentiality of that choice is guaranteed. Further, Microsoft will collaborate with CWA if any opportunities emerge for new technology and skill building programs.
Activision Blizzard management, besides being shitty about its sexual harassment and locker room culture, has actively opposed unionization efforts, including sending out anti-union emails and retaining the services of union-busting law firm Reed Smith. In contrast, Xbox head Phil Spencer announced that he would recognize the Raven Software union once the Activision Blizzard merger was complete. The Microsoft-CWA agreement seems to point towards the tech giant accepting that unionization within the tech industry is the future, and that it’s better to work with employees rather than oppose them.
Microsoft’s neutral to positive stance about unionization is in stark contrast to the rest of the tech industry. While Apple hasn’t declared a public stance, the tech giant has hired anti-union firm Littler Mendelson, and a Vice report in May uncovered leaked anti-union talking points distributed by managers of Apple’s retail stores. Amazon has also famously been anti-union, scuppering organizing efforts in many warehouses and fulfillment centers. An infamously worker-unfriendly environment may soon bite the online retail giant in the ass though, as Vox’s Recode details an internal Amazon memo revealing that worker attrition is so high that the company could soon run out of people to hire in critical locations like the Inland Empire region and Phoenix, AZ.
Microsoft’s stance is welcome, and I’m hoping that it’s a step forward for more companies to recognize unionization and better workplaces in the games industry and beyond. Horror stories about crunch and development death marches increasingly highlight the human cost of terrible workplaces and corporate cultures. The games that we enjoy shouldn’t come with an associated price tag of blood and burnout.