Microsoft Officially Recognises First Ever Union

Microsoft © Peteri Shutterstock 2012

More unionisation among tech workforces. Staff at one of Microsoft’s recent billion dollar plus acquisitions form trade union

Microsoft has recognised its first trade union in its 47 year history, as the technology industry continues to experience unionisation efforts among staff.

Tech firms until recently have historically not seen unions, due to the sector’s typically high wages. But with tech firms increasingly making large scale layoffs and the economic downturn, the tech sector has seen increasing amounts of unionisation efforts.

The latest is at Microsoft, where US quality-assurance staff across multiple studios at ZeniMax, a video game publisher Microsoft purchased in 2021 for $8.1 billion, are organising with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), CNBC reported.

Microsoft recognition

ZeniMax is the parent company of Bethesda Softworks (the studio behind gaming titles such as Doom and Fallout), and it is one of a number of gaming purchases including the $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which is facing significant regulatory and political concern.

Staff in parts of Activision Blizzard have already unionised the CWA announced late last year, but Microsoft hasn’t finished acquiring the gaming publisher at the time of writing.

But now video gaming staff at ZeniMax have gained a union foothold in the software giant, after Microsoft said last year it would support approaches that would make it simpler for its employees to join unions.

“In light of the results of the recent unionisation vote, we recognize the Communications Workers of America (CWA) as the bargaining representative for the Quality Assurance employees at ZeniMax,” a spokesperson for Microsoft and ZeniMax wrote in an email to CNBC.

“We look forward to engaging in good-faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement,” the spokesperson added.

ZeniMax union

The CWA announced that “a supermajority of quality assurance workers at Microsoft’s ZeniMax Studios have indicated that they wish to join ZeniMax Workers United/CWA either by signing a union authorisation card or voting via an online portal. In accordance with its stated labour principles, Microsoft has recognised the union.”

ZeniMax Workers United/CWA is the first studio at Microsoft to secure union representation, and the largest group of union-represented Quality Assurance testers at any US game studio, the CWA noted.

“We’re thrilled to kick off 2023 in a workplace that’s stronger and more equitable than it was last year,” said Skylar Hinnant, Senior QA Tester II, Rockville.

“This is an empowering victory that allows us to protect ourselves and each other in a way we never could without a union. Our hope and belief is that this is the year in which game workers across the country exercise their power and reshape the industry as a whole,”

“Before us is an opportunity to make big changes and bring equity to the video game industry,” said Victoria Banos, Senior QA Audio Tester, Hunt Valley.

“We want to put an end to sudden periods of crunch, unfair pay, and lack of growth opportunities within the company. Our union will push for truly competitive pay, better communication between management and workers, a clear path for those that want to progress their career, and more.”

Honouring its commitment

“Microsoft has lived up to its commitment to its workers and let them decide for themselves whether they want a union,” said Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton. “Other video game and tech giants have made a conscious choice to attack, undermine, and demoralize their own employees when they join together to form a union.”

“Microsoft is charting a different course which will strengthen its corporate culture and ability to serve its customers and should serve as a model for the industry and as a blueprint for regulators,” said Shelton.

Microsoft operates 23 internal game studios in addition to selling Xbox consoles and operating gaming services such as Game Pass subscription packages.

Until recently trade unions in the US are typically found in manufacturing sectors, but unions have begun to appear among tech players such as Alphabet, Apple and Amazon, although most tech firms are alleged to be actively resisting the unionisation of its workforces.