U.S. Union Hails Microsoft Activision Blizzard Buyout

The Communications Workers of America union has expressed delight in Microsoft’s takeover of Activision Blizzard, calling it a “new day” for workers at the Call of Duty maker.

The CWA, the largest communications and media labour union in the United States, said the completion of the $69 billion buyout represents “a milestone in the effort to improve working conditions in the video game industry”.

Microsoft is set to remain neutral when Activision Blizzard employees express interest in joining a union, providing a clear path to collective bargaining for almost 10,000 workers, the CWA said. Activision Blizzard has been accused of fighting union efforts at every turn.

In recent years Activision Blizzard employees have issued a number of complaints about sexism, a toxic work culture, and even walked out over reports controversial CEO Bobby Kotick failed to make the company’s board aware of allegations of rape and other serious misconduct. California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Activision Blizzard in July 2021, alleging a retaliatory “frat boy” culture. Activision Blizzard has denied the accusations. Kotick is set to exit Activision Blizzard at the end of the year.

Following the buyout, Communications Workers of America President Claude Cummings Jr said: “Over two years ago, workers at Activision Blizzard’s studios captured the country’s attention through walkouts and other protests over discrimination, sexual harassment, pay inequity, and other issues they were facing on the job.

“Their efforts to form unions were met with illegal retaliation and attempts to delay and block union elections. Now these workers are free to join our union through a fair process, without interference from management. Microsoft’s high-road approach should be the norm across the industry.”

The provisions of the neutrality agreement, which goes into full effect 60 days after the close of the acquisition, are:

  • 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 CWA and Microsoft under the agreement, the two organisations will work together promptly to reach an agreement and will turn to an expedited arbitration process if they cannot.

In December, around 300 quality assurance workers at Microsoft’s ZeniMax Media, which owns the likes of Starfield developer Bethesda, Redfall developer Arkane, and Wolfenstein developer MachineGames, formed a union with the CWA. At the time, Microsoft said it would remain neutral in the process and not try to dissuade workers from achieving formal recognition, and has since recognised the union. In April, ZeniMax Workers United of CWA announced the start of bargaining for its first ever contract with ZeniMax and Microsoft.

Speaking following today’s groundbreaking news, CWA Local 6215 member Dylan Burton, a Quality Assurance Tester at id Software, ZeniMax, in Dallas, Texas, said: “Every Activision Blizzard worker should take advantage of this opportunity to have a legally-protected voice.

“Management may come and go but a union contract means that no matter who is in charge, the standards are the same and they have to treat you with respect. During our union organising campaign, Microsoft was true to its word. We were able to decide for ourselves, and no-one faced any retaliation for supporting the union.”

Microsoft president Brad Smith reaffirmed the company’s commitment to labor principles in a short statement.

In June of 2022, Microsoft announced to our employees and workers around the globe four principles explaining Microsoft’s approach to labor organizing. And in the weeks that followed, Microsoft and the Communication Workers of America (CWA) announced a groundbreaking neutrality agreement for the tech industry and labor sector, designed to go into effect if Microsoft was successful in its acquisition of Activision Blizzard. 

Now, more than sixteen months later, as Microsoft has closed its transaction to acquire Activision Blizzard, we affirm our commitment to our labor principles and innovative approach to union partnerships.  Microsoft remains steadfast in our support of our current and future employees in whatever choice they make about their workplace and their representatives.  We look forward to meeting, listening to and learning from our new Activision Blizzard employees and continuing our collaborative engagement with CWA and the workers it represents.

The video game industry is witnessing a growing labour movement in games that includes Sega, Workinman Interactive, Blizzard Albany, Raven Software, the aforementioned ZeniMax QA, video game voice actors, and most recently, Avalanche. 2023 has been a particularly brutal year for the industry, which has seen thousands of staff let go, studios shuttered, and projects cancelled.

Wesley is the UK News Editor for IGN. Find him on Twitter at @wyp100. You can reach Wesley at [email protected] or confidentially at [email protected].

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