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Video game workers get union footing at Microsoft

Video game workers get union footing at Microsoft

Video game workers get union footing at Microsoft

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Unions won one of their biggest victories at a U.S. technology company on Tuesday, gaining a foothold among about 300 employees at a Microsoft-owned video game maker.

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The Communications Workers of America, which will represent the employees, announced the result, and Microsoft issued a statement acknowledging the result.

“We look forward to engaging in good faith negotiations as we work toward a collective bargaining agreement,” the company said. Microsoft has no other unionized workers.

The labor movement at video game maker ZeniMax Media, which Microsoft acquired for about $7.5 billion in a 2021 deal, did not involve a conventional union election hosted by the National Labor Relations Board.

Instead, the company allowed workers to express their preferences in two ways: they could sign a union permission card, which some started doing in November, or they could vote anonymously via a platform. online open for most of December.

The process was more efficient and less contentious than preparing for a typical labor board election, which can involve extensive legal wrangling.

Microsoft has agreed to remain neutral throughout the union campaign, avoiding union-busting meetings and messaging that many companies are committing to. The concessions came as the company tried to appease antitrust regulators reviewing its proposed acquisition of the roughly $70 billion video game. manufacturer Activision Blizzard.

“This is an empowering victory that allows us to protect ourselves and each other in a way that we never could without a union,” said Skylar Hinnant, a worker involved in the organizing campaign, in a press release.

When workers at a sprawling Amazon warehouse on Staten Island pushed to organize last year, the company fought the effort aggressively. The union won in April, but Amazon disputed the results. Apple has also sought to persuade retail workers not to unionize, although workers at two stores voted to do so.

ZeniMax employees involved in the campaign, which included only quality assurance, or QA, workers, said Microsoft’s neutral stance was a relief. “It was nothing short of an absolute gift,” Autumn Mitchell, a labor activist in the union effort, said in an interview last month.

In a further sign that unionization is gaining ground in the games industry, workers at a Boston studio owned by Activision announced last week that they had filed a petition to hold union elections.

Two other Activision studios have already voted to unionize – one in Wisconsin and the other near Albany, NY. But unlike those studios, the proposed union at the Boston studio, known as the Proletariat, includes a variety of workers, such as animators, designers, and engineers. , not just QA workers. A formal union with larger members would appear to be a first for a major US game maker.

The Communications Workers of America represent workers at the two Activision studios who have already unionized and would represent Boston-based workers.

At ZeniMax, which includes high-profile Bethesda Game Studios, creator of hits such as The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, workers said they hoped a union would improve their pay and hours. QA testers and other industry workers have long complained that they have to endure grueling shifts shortly before a title is released.

Microsoft said it consults with employees to make sure they don’t take on too much work.

Those looking to unionize at ZeniMax also said they hoped to change the company’s approach to promoting workers and give them more responsibility, which they said sometimes seemed arbitrary, and that they hoped to be able to negotiate more flexible policies on remote work.

In June, Microsoft announced an agreement with the Communications Workers Union in which it pledged to remain neutral if any of Activision’s US employees sought to unionize after Microsoft acquired the company. The video game maker has about 7,000 American employees, most of whom are eligible to unionize.

Officially, the labor agreement only applied to employees who joined Microsoft through the Activision purchase. But the tech giant has indicated it would also be willing to extend the terms of the employment agreement to current employees.

The politically powerful communications workers’ union had expressed reservations about Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision, but said the neutrality deal addressed its concerns, and the union’s president later met with the president. of the Federal Trade Commission to ask for its support for the agreement.

But regulators are not appeased. The agency filed a lawsuit to block the Activision deal in December, just as ZeniMax workers decided to unionize.

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