Microsoft has broken rank with its peers in the tech industry and said it will not combat employee unionization efforts. The news was announced on Thursday in a blog post authored by Microsoft President Brad Smith.
"Recent unionization campaigns across the country — including in the tech sector — have led us to conclude that inevitably these issues will touch on more businesses, potentially including our own," Smith wrote. "This has encouraged us to think proactively about the best approach for our employees, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders."
Smith said the company has outlined four principles it's committing to in order to guide how it handles labor organizing at Microsoft and its many subsidiaries, which include countless divisions and offices around the world spanning its software, hardware, gaming and cloud businesses. The post is similar in style to one Microsoft published earlier this year in which it pledged to follow pro-competition principles around software distribution and app stores in an effort to avoid regulation.
The principles could have a major effect on the corporate structure of Microsoft's business. The company does not currently have any labor unions, but it is in the process of acquiring game publisher Activision Blizzard. Raven Software, a video game studio owned by Activision, last week became the first major game developer with a recognized labor union after nearly two dozen quality-assurance testers voted to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board.
At the time, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said the Xbox division would respect the union. “Once the deal closes, we would absolutely support [an] employees’ organization that’s in place,” Spencer told employee during an Xbox all-hands meeting, according to Kotaku. “We think it is a right of employees and something that can be a part of a relationship between a company and people who work at the company.”
Smith's blog post Thursday, however, goes far beyond those comments by pledging not to actively combat union efforts, as its competitors Amazon and Apple are now doing. "We respect this right and do not believe that our employees or the company’s other stakeholders benefit by resisting lawful employee efforts to participate in protected activities, including forming or joining a union," Smith said of one of the four principles titled, "We recognize that employees have a legal right to choose whether to form or join a union."
The other principles indicate that Microsoft may be open to supporting more unions within its workforce. "We are committed to creative and collaborative approaches with unions when employees wish to exercise their rights and Microsoft is presented with a specific unionization proposal," reads another of the four principles. Smith said of that principle that it gives the company an opportunity to work with existing unions and to foster "collaborative approaches 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."
The other two principles involve committing to working with labor unions both in the U.S. and Europe and having an open-door policy for discussing issues in the workforce that may be facilitating labor organizing efforts.
"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. And we recognize that employers and employees will not always agree on all topics — and that is okay," Smith concluded. "Perhaps as much as anything, we bring a sense of optimism grounded in an appreciation that success in a competitive global economy requires that businesses and labor strive to work together well."