Microsoft took an unexpected step toward sanctioning a unionized workforce at Activision Blizzard today by agreeing to remain neutral if any of the Santa Monica-based video game publisher’s roughly 10,000 employees decide to form a union.
The Seattle tech giant—which is currently in the midst of acquiring Activision for nearly $70 billion—has struck a labor neutrality deal with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the labor organization backing the newly formed Game Workers Alliance union at Activision subsidiary Raven Software.
The agreement, first reported by the Washington Post, calls for Microsoft to “take a neutral approach when [Activision] employees covered by the agreement express interest in joining a union,” Microsoft and the CWA said in a joint statement Monday. That would make it easier for Activision employees to unionize, and expedite the often time-consuming process of certifying a labor union by side-stepping measures like a National Labor Relations Board-sponsored election.
The deal, which would take effect 60 days after Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision is finalized, follows on Microsoft’s recent statements that it would not block labor organizing efforts at the video game developer—a philosophy which company president Brad Smith recently expanded on in a blog post. It also comes in the wake of Activision’s announcement on Friday that it would commence labor negotiations with the Raven Software union.
The CWA agreement “means that we respect the rights of our employees to make informed decisions on their own,” Smith told the Post. “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.”
Activision employees active in workplace organizing efforts at the company praised the Microsoft-CWA deal on Monday. Jessica Gonzalez, a former Activision employee-turned-CWA organizer told dot.LA that “it is the strongest agreement that I’ve ever seen between a major corporation and a union in my life.”
“Maybe [Microsoft] wanted to be on the right side of history… Maybe they just want this [Activision] deal to go through and were like, ‘You know what—we'll let the employees unionize, it’s going to make us money anyway,’” Gonzalez said. She described the agreement as “a show of good faith” by Microsoft.
Emily Knief, an Activision motion graphics designer involved in worker advocacy group ABetterABK, said she believes the agreement will encourage further labor organizing efforts at the video game company. “This, to me, signals that [unionization at Activision] will happen,” Knief told dot.LA. “It’s almost an inevitability at this point.”
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