Pencil on another Winning Collective Bargaining Efforts in the Video Game Industry: On Monday, Microsoft and Communications Workers of America signed a labor neutrality agreement, which will allow workers to explore their right to unionize freely and without fear of reprisals. The deal begins 60 days after Microsoft closes its acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
It is an unprecedented deal for the gaming industry, which has been notoriously hostile to workers’ groups since its inception. Nowhere has this been more evident than at Activision Blizzard, where workers have been fighting for months to get unionized amid the company’s hiring of anti-union companies and the use of anti-labor rhetoric. The first unions to be formed under the umbrella of the company are workers of Call of Duty developer Raven Software: a feat they managed to achieve with a small quality control unit and 19 “yes” votes.
Under the neutrality agreement, employees will be able to talk to their co-workers about union membership and maintain confidentiality on these issues. “If a disagreement arises between the CWA and Microsoft under the agreement, the two organizations will work together quickly to reach an agreement and resort to an expedited arbitration process if they cannot,” the CWA said in its announcement. .
This agreement, CWA President Chris Shelton said in a statement, “provides a way for Activision Blizzard workers to exercise their democratic rights to organize and bargain collectively” once the acquisition of Microsoft. In other words, Shelton continued, employees now have a seat at the table.
The CWA’s tiredness from the impending merger has been in the process for months. In March, he urged the FTC, along with 14 other organizations, to “closely examine” the agreement before closing it: “The possible takeover by Microsoft threatens to further undermine workers’ rights and suppress wages “. The neutrality agreement alleviates these concerns. Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a statement that the impending acquisition is the company’s “first chance” to enforce guidelines that have already been set for labor organizations.
Microsoft has been open to employee syndication. Xbox boss Phil Spencer told staff that the company would recognize Raven’s union once the merger was completed, nullifying the reluctance that Activision Blizzard has repeatedly shown in response to workers’ efforts. In addition to allegations of union breakdowns, the National Labor Relations Board said in May that it found merit in allegations that the company threatened employees who spoke of working conditions. Activision Blizzard refused to voluntarily recognize Raven’s union, forcing workers to legally gain their rights through elections.
On May 23, a group of quality assurance developers made history after winning this vote, forming the first AAA union in one of the largest gaming companies on the planet. Activision Blizzard’s response was a rejection: “We believe that 19 Raven employees should not make a major decision that will affect the entire Raven Software study of about 350 people,” spokesman Kelvin Liu told WIRED.
But Activision Blizzard can no longer continue this fight. CEO Bobby Kotick emailed employees on June 10 with the news that the company will negotiate with Communications Workers of America and the unit’s 27 QA workers: “We will meet with CWA leaders at the and we will work to reach an agreement that supports the success of all our employees, this further strengthens our commitment to creating the best, most welcoming and inclusive job in the industry, and enhances our ability to deliver world class for our players “.
Microsoft’s willingness to work with the CWA bodes well for future efforts to get organized in the company, but the road to better working conditions is still a long one. Agreeing on a contract is a long and intense process that requires repeated commitments and negotiations on behalf of both parties. Kotick says the negotiation will be done in good faith, but right now the company has a legal obligation to come to the table. He has no choice.
Still, Kotick’s promise is a “positive step toward labor relations at Activision,” CWA secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens told WIRED. “[We] hope, “he says.[Kotick’s announcement] “It’s the first of many steps toward a full partnership between Activision Blizzard’s management and employees to shape the future of Activision through a strong union contract.”