Mar 24, 2022 - Technology

Video game workers ask Microsoft if it will approve unionization

A collection of screenshots from Activision Blizzard game franchises.

Photo: Microsoft

​​Microsoft says it will not object to Activision Blizzard recognizing internal unionization efforts, in response to a letter from Activision workers pressing the company to state its position about a potential union at Call of Duty studio Raven Software.

Why it matters: Microsoft’s proposed $69 billion acquisition of Activision still faces regulatory hurdles, but the tech giant may have some say about union efforts at the games company.

  • Activision failed to recognize the union by a January deadline.
  • A February outline of the acquisition sent by Activision to its shareholders states that the company may not voluntarily recognize a union or enter a collective bargaining agreement without satisfying one of several conditions, one of which is to receive Microsoft’s approval.

In the letter, sent to CEO Satya Nadella and shared exclusively with Axios, workers ask whether his company has authorized Activision to approve or oppose recognition of the union–or if it would potentially OK recognition.

  • The letter requests information about Microsoft’s involvement, if any, in the workers’ current dispute with Activision over the unionization process, which is now subject to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board.
  • And it asks, “[W]hat conditions, if any, will Microsoft put on the collective bargaining process?”
  • A version of the letter will run as an ad in the Seattle Times on Sunday.

“Microsoft will not stand in the way if Activision Blizzard recognizes a union,” a company spokesman told Axios when asked about the letter.

  • “Microsoft respects Activision Blizzard employees’ right to choose whether to be represented by a labor organization and we will honor those decisions.”
  • The company did not clarify what discussions have already taken place, nor its expectations for any collective bargaining process.

Flashback: Quality assurance workers at Raven announced their intent to form a union in January, after striking over their parent company’s decision to drop a dozen QA contractors.

  • Activision said it did so as part of a process of converting hundreds of other contractors to staff positions.
  • It has stated that it supports its workers' right to organize but has communicated internally and externally that it believes "a direct relationship" between workers and management is better for workers.

Between the lines: Unionization is rare in the global gaming industry and nearly non-existent in the U.S., where Raven, Activision and many of Microsoft’s own video game development teams are based.

  • In 2014, subcontractors for Microsoft voted to form a union and were soon dismissed by their direct employer. A 2016 union-busting complaint against Microsoft filed to the NLRB went nowhere, according to a Bloomberg report.
  • A Microsoft rep at the time said the dispute was a matter for the workers and the contracting company that employed them.
  • In their letter to Nadella, the Raven workers also accused Activision of using “union-busting” tactics to slow collective action, and pushed Microsoft to stop the “campaign that is being waged against us."

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Editor's note: This story was updated to say that the letter would run as an ad in the Seattle Times.

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