Microsoft and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have reached a neutrality agreement that promises to ease the path to unionisation for staff at Activision Blizzard, the game studio Redmond plans to acquire for US$68.7 billion.
Quality assurance staff at Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software voted to unionise last month, the culmination of months of action — including a five-week strike in January over Activision’s decision to lay off 12 QA testers — that resulted in the first union at a major US video game publisher. Despite initially refusing to voluntarily recognise the CWA-backed union, Activision Blizzard’s CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly changed tack in an email to staff last week.
Microsoft announced its intention to buy Activision Blizzard, which is responsible for games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, in January, raising the prospective of a formal employee union operating within Microsoft.
Although Microsoft has previously indicated that it wouldn’t stand in the way of worker unions at Activison Blizzard, the five-point agreement announced by the CWA and Microsoft on Monday formalises its stance.
The agreement promises a “neutral approach” to employee unionisation without interference from Microsoft, and an assurance that employees can communicate freely with colleagues and labor organisers about unionisation. The agreement will come into effect 60 days after the planned acquisition closes, the CWA said.
The neutrality agreement will give Activision workers the opportunity to “exercise their democratic rights to organise and collectively bargain,” said CWA president Chris Shelton in a statement. “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,” he said.
Microsoft president and vice chair Brad Smith welcomed the agreement with the CWA in a statement, stating that “we see today’s partnership as an avenue to innovate and grow together.”
In a Microsoft blog post last week, Smith pledged to respect unionisation attempts within the company, a move described by one academic as a “bold and welcome commitment” in a technology industry historically resistant to labor organisation.
Microsoft’s approach differs from other large technology companies that have taken a more combative stance towards unionisation efforts within their workforce, notably Apple and Amazon.