Today, Microsoft confirmed their intention to enter into a ‘labor neutrality’ agreement with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which represents some 700k workers and is the largest media and communications union in the USA. According to the CWA press release, this move “reflects a fundamental belief by both organizations that enabling workers to freely and fairly make a choice about union representation will benefit Microsoft and its employees.”
The deal will come into effect with Activision-Blizzard-King (ABK) 60 days after Microsoft’s proposed takeover of the company is completed, according to the CWA press release, and presumably immediately for current Microsoft employees. At present the $70b takeover of ABK is slated to be completed in 2023, with regulators still poring over the details and considering the implications of ABK’s ongoing lawsuits.
For those new to the phrase, a labor neutrality agreement is essentially just an agreement from a company to support workers in their efforts to unionize, or at least not to actively hinder them, which on the face of things doesn’t seem groundbreaking. However, in the context of ABK’s continued attempts to stop their employees from creating a collective bargaining group, which only changed this month, this represents a significant step in the right direction.
Ongoing fight for worker rights
In terms of the current battle between ABK and the Game Workers Alliance, a group set up by employees at ABK subsidiary Raven Software, this won’t be as impactful, with no changes set to come into effect until Microsoft completes their takeover. There are five basic provisions contained in the agreement, listed below, and all represent an improvement on ABK’s initial response to their workers attempting to unionize.
- 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 the 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.
Points three through five have some room for interpretation, with the language used suggesting that Microsoft may be responsible for the ‘technology-support and streamlined process’ employees will use, and point four suggesting that workers will have to opt-out of any information sharing, rather than the tech working confidentially as standard. Point five is also quite vague, with ‘expedited arbitration’ not explicitly stating the process will be carried out by a neutral third-party.
However, there is no doubt this move is a massive step forward for workers at ABK, and potentially the games industry too. With Microsoft a massive player in the field, their adoption of a labor neutral stance as standard will push their peers to do the same, as well as forcing ABK and all their subsidiaries to improve their practices in a way that will hopefully protect workers.