Jun 13, 2022 - Technology

Microsoft reaches neutrality pact with labor union

Illustration of a large fist made up of many smaller fists.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Microsoft and the Communications Workers of America on Monday announced a neutrality pact designed to allow the firm's employees to decide without interference whether they wish to form a union.

Why it matters: The CWA, which had expressed concerns about Microsoft's plan to buy Activision Blizzard, now supports the deal.

What they're saying: "Microsoft has now given those employees a seat at the table," CWA president Christopher Shelton told Axios. "They’ve pulled out a chair and said you can sit down or not sit down."

  • "Every aspect of success in technology comes from employees," Microsoft president Brad Smith told Axios. "This is an agreement grounded in respect for employees."

Catch up quick: Microsoft announced this month that it would not oppose efforts by its workers to form unions and announced a series of principles that would guide its work with organized labor.

  • Shelton said that he is glad to have an agreement in writing, in addition to Microsoft's pledge. "Lots of companies make lots of agreements," he said. "Nine times out of 10 they are empty promises."

State of play: Activision Blizzard has opened collective-bargaining negotiations with workers in the gaming giant’s Raven Software unit who recently voted to join a union, as Axios Closer's Hope King first reported.

  • "We decided to take this important step forward with our 27 represented employees and CWA to explore their ideas and insights for how we might better serve our employees, players and other stakeholders," Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick said in a statement to Axios.

The big picture: Microsoft's work with the CWA comes as many other tech companies, including Amazon and Apple, have been resisting unionization efforts.

What's next: While Smith said he couldn't speak for whether other companies should adopt a similar stance toward unions, Shelton said he hopes the agreement will spur others.

  • "We believe lots of big companies should be doing the same thing," he said.
  • But he acknowledged that it's too soon to know whether others will follow Microsoft's lead.
  • Smith and Shelton said that the union hopes to work with Microsoft in other areas, including skills development and expansion of broadband.
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