Microsoft and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) entered into a labor neutrality agreement Monday that would ensure Microsoft voluntarily recognizing any union formed by Activision Blizzard employees.
"This agreement provides a pathway for Activision Blizzard workers to exercise their democratic rights to organize and collectively bargain after the close of the Microsoft acquisition and establishes a high road framework for employers in the games industry," 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. The agreement addresses CWA’s previous concerns regarding the acquisition, and, as a result, we support its approval and look forward to working collaboratively with Microsoft after this deal closes."
The agreement will go into effect 60 days after Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard closes, which is expected to take place in 2023. It will only affect Activision Blizzard employees — excluding Microsoft employees across other parts of the business — and includes the following provisions:
- "Microsoft will take a neutral approach when employees covered by the agreement express interest in joining a union"
- "Covered employees will be able to easily exercise their right to communicate with other employees and union representatives about union membership in a way that encourages information sharing and avoids business disruptions"
- "Employees will have access to an innovative technology-supported and streamlined process for choosing whether to join a union"
- "Employees can maintain confidentiality and privacy of that choice if they wish"
- "If a disagreement arises between CWA and Microsoft under the agreement, the two organizations will work together promptly to reach an agreement and will turn to an expedited arbitration process if they cannot"
Quality assurance (QA) testers at the Activision Blizzard-owned studio Raven Software unionized last month with help from the CWA, forming the first U.S. union at a major AAA video game publisher. Activision Blizzard was forced to recognize the union last week, and CEO Bobby Kotick has said it would begin the bargaining process in good faith. That statement arrived after months of union busting efforts that included warning employees off unionizing, trying to undermine the unionization vote by expanding the size of the union, and more.
Xbox head Phil Spencer has taken a significantly less adversarial stance toward unions, saying he "would absolutely support" a union that was already upon the finalization of Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard. Monday's agreement makes that verbal commitment legally binding
Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Washington Post that Activision Blizzard had not been consulted on the terms of the agreement. Although the agreement doesn't include other Microsoft employees, CWA President Shelton believes it a positive sign for the future of unionization efforts elsewhere in the company.
"We will talk about how we go about organizing Microsoft employees if that happens," he said. "And I'm not saying that it's not happening as we speak, but we don't announce organizing projects."