Activision Blizzard announced Friday that it is entering negotiations with a group of quality assurance testers from Raven Software. These testers have spent months demanding recognition from their union, the Game Workers Alliance, which is supported by the CWA.
The labor neutrality agreement “means that we respect the right of our employees to make informed decisions for themselves,” Microsoft President Brad Smith said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It means you don’t try to put your thumb on the scales to influence them or pressure them. You give people the opportunity to exercise their right to choose by voting…it’s something that is respectful of everyone, friendlier and avoids business disruption.”
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The agreement puts in writing what Microsoft has said in the past. In March, Microsoft told The Post it wouldn’t stand in the way if Activision Blizzard recognized a union. In May, Xbox chief Phil Spencer told employees in an internal interview that he would recognize Raven Software’s new union, according to a Kotaku report. Unlike those previous statements, this agreement is legally binding, according to the CWA and Microsoft.
“[The agreement] covers the vast majority of Activision Blizzard workers,” Smith said. “Certain categories are excluded under national labor relations law – managers, people in confidential positions, that sort of thing. But very broadly, this applies to all Activision Blizzard employees.
The agreement between Microsoft and the CWA states that employees should easily exercise their right to communicate with other employees and other union representatives about the organization, have a simplified process for choosing to join a union and keep their decision private if they wish. Finally, the agreement states that if the CWA and Microsoft are in disagreement, they will work together to reach a consensus and failing that, will turn to an arbitration process.
“The arbitration process will ensure that employees’ rights under national labor relations law are upheld, so we’re not trying to go out and do something that’s separate from people’s rights,” said Smith. “We then have a third party who can make a decision and comply with it.”
If other Microsoft employees end up unionizing, the CWA said it intends to use this agreement to help defend those employees as well.
“We will talk about how we will organize Microsoft employees if that happens,” said CWA President Christopher Shelton. “And I’m not saying it’s not happening right now, but we’re not announcing any organizational plans.”
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Microsoft’s deal comes a week after it announced a new strategy for dealing with unions. The company released new “Principles of Employee Organizing” on June 2, which stated, “We recognize that there are often times when some employees in certain countries may wish to form or join a union.”
Shelton said talks began after Microsoft announced in January that it would buy Activision Blizzard for a historic $68.7 billion, a move that shocked union workers. The deal is expected to close by June 2023.
“We looked at it and said, ‘Employees have to have a voice or they’ll get crushed by these big companies deciding to come together,'” Shelton said. “We made this deal, and we’ve been working on it for quite a while now. It was not so easy. But it wasn’t that hard either, because Microsoft really meant what they said in their principles, and I believe it.”
Smith said Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and his company were not consulted on the terms of the deal, although the company is aware that Microsoft and the CWA were having discussions.
“We have to be extremely careful under the law to avoid what’s called gun jumping,” Smith said, referring to the illegal activities of a company that is still awaiting regulatory approval. “We didn’t have to [talk to Activision Blizzard] under the merger agreement, and we have not sought their approval to enter into the agreement.
Regarding his company’s decision to engage with the CWA and Raven’s union, Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement to The Post, “We have decided to take this important step with our 27 represented employees and CWAs to explore their ideas and perspectives. to find out how we could better serve our employees, players and other stakeholders. We look forward to working with CWA as we create the most welcoming and inclusive workplace in the industry. »
Microsoft’s announcement comes amid growing video game unions and ongoing organizing efforts at companies like Starbucks and Apple.
Video game companies in North America never managed to unionize until last December, when a union at indie developer Vodeo Games was recognized by management. It was followed by Raven Software which won a union election on May 23. On June 6, 16 QA testers from Keywords Studios, which is working on “Dragon Age: Dreadwolf” for BioWare, owned by Electronic Arts, formed Canada’s first video game syndicate. Electronic Arts spokeswoman Lacey Haines said in a statement, “While the unionization of Keywords Studios employees in Edmonton does not involve BioWare employees, we want to be clear that at EA, we respect the process and the workers’ right to choose.”
Like the video game industry, big tech companies have been slow to get organized, which begs the question of why this movement is happening now. Smith said the CWA deal was not an attempt by Microsoft to present the Activision Blizzard merger on more favorable terms to antitrust regulators, with whom the company has had multiple feuds, including a 1998 antitrust case. for which Bill Gates testified before Congress. Microsoft was more inspired by its organized employees in Europe and South Korea, he said.
“We haven’t had the specific organizing efforts directly in the United States that others have, but we have a deep respect for the role of unions in a democracy,” Smith said. “Just look at what the labor movement has done for people’s rights in this country for 150 years. This is part of the success of this country. And if there’s an opportunity for us to connect with that in a new way, I think that’s good for everyone.
Union professors agreed that the deal between Microsoft and the CWA was historically groundbreaking.
“In a sense, [Microsoft’s deal with the CWA] is an acknowledgment that the mood is changing,” said Margaret O’Mara, professor of technology and politics at the University of Washington. “The political winds are changing. There has been more public conversation and activism, especially since the start of the pandemic, around unionization. It was this company that presented itself as the adult in the room, portraying itself as a corporate citizen, proactive in regulation and working with governments. »
Wilma Liebman, former chair of the National Labor Relations Board under former President Barack Obama, said one of the motivations for the CWA deal could be the future approval of its acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
“I’m sure part, if not a major part, of Microsoft’s motivation to enter into this deal is to dampen opposition to the merger with Activision,” Liebman said. “Indeed, the CWA is expressly saying that it now approves of the merger. No doubt, Microsoft believes its ‘softer’ stance on unionization may benefit in the antitrust investigation, particularly in the Biden administration. “