Microsoft is now legally required to respect worker unionization at Activision Blizzard if the company's pending acquisition is successful, based on a first-of-its-kind agreement reached between Microsoft and the Communications Workers of America.
The labor neutrality agreement — the first of its ilk among tech companies — outlines the company's commitment to neutrality and worker privacy during union efforts at Activision Blizzard and also creates a process for speedy arbitration if Microsoft and CWA disagree and can't reach a resolution. Microsoft also committed to giving employees access to "innovative" ways to choose whether they want to join a union.
The agreement “means that we respect the right of our employees to make informed decisions on their own,” Microsoft President Brad Smith told The Washington Post in an interview on Monday. "It means that we don’t try to put a thumb on the scale to influence or pressure them. We give people the opportunity to exercise their right to choose by voting … it’s something that’s respectful of everyone, more amicable and avoids business disruption.”
Smith said the company did not consult Activision Blizzard about the agreement, though the game publisher was aware that Microsoft was in talks with the CWA. The agreement "covers the large majority of workers at Activision Blizzard," Smith said.
Most major tech companies have taken the opposite approach as unionization efforts sweep through the industry for the first time in its history. Both Apple and Amazon continue to publicly oppose union efforts among their retail and warehouse workers, respectively.
A small group of quality assurance testers at Activision Blizzard's Raven studio — which develops Call of Duty games — won a union vote last month (voting 19 in favor and 3 against). On Friday, Activision told the union it recognizes the group and would engage in collective bargaining talks for their first contract. The new union is represented by CWA, which has been organizing workers across the scandal-plagued Activision Blizzard over the last year. If Microsoft becomes the owner of Activision Blizzard, the company will be legally obligated to respect and negotiate with the new Raven union.
Activision Blizzard and the CWA have been embroiled in drawn-out, complicated legal battles before the National Labor Relations Board over the last year. This new agreement should prevent those same fights from recurring when Microsoft is the new owner, assuming the acquisition is successful.
Earlier this month, Smith pledged that all of Microsoft would respect worker unionization efforts (not just at Activision Blizzard), and he cited the Raven union as one of the reasons the company decided to publicly take a stance on unions.