Microsoft pledges neutrality on unions for Activision staff

Now can we just buy them, please?

Microsoft isn't wasting time trying to put Activision Blizzard's problems in the rearview mirror, announcing a labor neutrality agreement with the game maker's recently-formed union.

Microsoft will be grappling with plenty of issues at Activision, including unfair labor lawsuits, sexual harassment allegations and toxic workplace claims. Activision subsidiary Raven Software, developers on the popular Call of Duty game series, recently voted to organize a union, which Activision entered into negotiations with only a few days ago.

Microsoft and the Communication Workers of America (CWA), which represents Raven Software employees, issued a joint statement saying that the agreement is a ground-breaking one that "will benefit Microsoft and its employees, and create opportunities for innovation in the gaming sector." 

The labor neutrality agreement is scheduled to go into effect 60 days after Microsoft's acquisition of Activision Blizzard closes, and will affect all employees, not just Raven Software's. The CWA/Microsoft statement describes it as being based around five provisions, which CWA President Chris Shelton said are binding:

  • Microsoft is required to take a neutral approach when Activision Blizzard employees express interest in forming a union
  • AB employees must be allowed to easily communicate with other employees and union reps about membership "in a way that encourages information sharing and avoids business disruptions"
  • AB employees will be given necessary technology to streamline the decision whether to join a union
  • An individual's decision to join the union will be kept confidential
  • Disagreements between the CWA and Microsoft require the two to promptly resolve disputes or turn to expedited arbitration if the two can't agree

Brad Smith, Microsoft president and vice chair, said that the agreement reflects a set of labor organizing principles Microsoft set for itself in early June. ""We appreciate CWA's collaboration in reaching this agreement, and we see today's partnership as an avenue to innovate and grow together," Smith said. 

Activision Blizzard was sued by the state of California last year for fostering a "frat boy" culture that led to sexual and racial discrimination, poor pay for women and more.

Microsoft announced its intent to buy Activision Blizzard in January for $68.7 billion, and while it didn't directly address Activision's troubles, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer did say at the time that Microsoft was "looking forward to extending our culture of proactive inclusion to the great teams across Activision Blizzard."

Microsoft itself isn't without a history of similar labor problems: A series of emails leaked in 2019 painted Redmond as having a similar culture, and founder Bill Gates' 2020 board departure has also been hit with rumors he left over a workplace affair. ®

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