February 21, 2024

Organized labor scored one of its biggest victories at a U.S. technology company on Tuesday, gaining a foothold among the roughly 300 employees of a video game maker owned by Microsoft.

The Communications Workers of America, which represents employees, announced the results, and Microsoft issued a statement acknowledging the results.

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

The unionization move at video game maker ZeniMax Media (which Microsoft bought for about $7.5 billion in 2021) does not involve traditional union elections held by the National Labor Relations Board.

Instead, the company is allowing employees to express their preferences in two ways: They can sign union authorization cards, which some began doing in November, or they can vote anonymously through an online platform that remains open through most of December.

The process is more efficient and less contentious than the run-up to a typical labor council election, which can involve extensive legal wrangling.

Microsoft agreed to remain neutral throughout the union movement, avoiding the anti-union meetings and messaging that many companies have engaged in. The concession comes as the company has been trying to appease antitrust regulators, which are reviewing its roughly $70 billion proposed takeover of video game maker Activision Blizzard.

“This is an inspiring victory that allows us to protect ourselves and each other in a way we couldn’t without unions,” Skylar Hinnant, a worker who organized the event, said in a statement.

The company fought aggressively last year when workers at a giant Amazon warehouse in Staten Island demanded to organize. The union won in April, but Amazon disputed the result. Apple is also trying to persuade retail workers to oppose unionization, although workers at two stores have voted in favor of doing so.

ZeniMax employees who took part in the event, which included only quality assurance or QA employees, said Microsoft was relieved by its neutral stance. “It’s definitely a gift,” Autumn Mitchell, an active union worker, said in an interview last month.

In a further sign that unionization is gaining traction across the gaming industry, workers at one of Activision’s Boston studios announced last week that they had filed a petition to hold union elections.

Two other Activision studios have voted to unionize — one in Wisconsin and the other near Albany, New York. But unlike those studios, the Boston studio’s proposed union, dubbed Proletariat, includes workers of all kinds, such as animators, designers, and engineers, not just QA staff. A formal union with broader membership appears to be a first for a major U.S. game maker.

The Communications Workers of America represents workers at the two Activision studios that are already unionized and will represent workers in Boston.

At ZeniMax, which includes the high-profile Bethesda game studio, maker of hit games like The Elder Scrolls and Fallout, workers say they want unions to boost their wages and jobs time. QA testers and others in the industry have long complained about the grueling work they have to endure shortly before a game launches.

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

Those seeking to unionize at ZeniMax also said they want changes to the company’s practice of promoting employees and giving them more responsibility, which they say has sometimes seemed arbitrary, and they want to be able to negotiate more flexible policies around remote work.

In June, Microsoft announced an agreement with the communications workers union, promising to remain neutral if any of Activision’s U.S. employees sought to unionize after Microsoft acquired the company. The video game maker has about 7,000 U.S. employees, most of whom are unionized.

Officially, the collective bargaining agreement applies only to employees who joined Microsoft through the Activision acquisition. But the tech giant said it was also willing to extend the terms of the collective bargaining agreement to current employees.

Politically powerful communications workers union has expressed reservations Regarding Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision, but which it said the neutral agreement addressed its concerns, the union president then met with the head of the Federal Trade Commission to urge support for the deal.

But regulators were not appeased. The agency sued to block the Activision deal in December, as ZeniMax employees were deciding whether to unionize.

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