By Catherine Thorbecke, CNN Business
Some 300 quality assurance workers at Microsoft-owned gaming studio ZeniMax are in the process of voting to form what would be the first union at the tech giant, organizers confirmed to CNN Business.
The workers are organizing with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union and have until the end of December to vote on it. Microsoft has agreed to recognize the union if a majority of the workers vote in favor of it, according to the CWA.
“We applaud Microsoft for remaining neutral through this process and letting workers decide for themselves whether they want a union,” CWA President Christopher Shelton said in a statement to CNN Business. “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 has made a different choice, which other corporations would be wise to emulate for the good of their corporate culture, their workers, and their customers.”
The organizing efforts at the gaming studio come amid a broader labor awakening that has erupted across major companies in the tech industry and beyond, including retail and warehouse workers at Amazon, Apple and Starbucks. Some companies like Amazon have so far refused to recognize workers who have voted to form a union.
The union bid at the Microsoft subsidiary, however, stands out from some of the others because Microsoft has previously vowed to recognize the rights of workers to organize. Earlier this year, Microsoft entered into a neutrality agreement with the CWA, which is also supporting organizing efforts from workers at Activision Blizzard, the gaming giant Microsoft agreed to acquire for $68.7 billion. (The deal is pending regulatory approval.)
Over the past year, the gaming sector has seen a larger worker-led push for improved workplace conditions after a number of controversies related to grueling work-life balance, pay inequities, poor job stability and other complaints over workplace culture at some of the country’s biggest gaming studios.
A Microsoft spokesperson told CNN Business on Monday evening that its neutral stance toward the organizing efforts of ZeniMax employees is “an example of our labor principles in action.” The spokesperson said Microsoft remains committed “to providing employees with an opportunity to freely and fairly make choices about their workplace representation.”
Joe Slack, an associate quality assurance tester who is part of the organizing committee for the ZeniMax union, said workers are “not starting a union to be against the company.” Instead, the effort is largely about giving workers a seat at the table as management makes decisions that will impact them.
“We just really wanted to have a voice,” Slack told CNN Business, “and try and help with communication with management, and figuring out how we can deal with all these different things that challenge the group as a whole.” Slack said workers came together after seeing “just so much room for improvement” in their workplace.
Slack said Microsoft has been “very accommodating” throughout the process, ever since organizers first approached the company about the union. “They understand that it’s a right and they wanted to leave it up to the workers,” Slack said.
“There’s this perception of an adversarial relationship between the union and management, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Slack added. “I’m happy to be part of a group that’s trying to prove that and improve everybody’s life and well-being in the process.”
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