Microsoft reaches 'ground-breaking agreement' with union representing game workers

Activision Games office.
(Image credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty)

The Communications Workers of America, the parent organization of the Game Workers Alliance union, has entered into a "labor neutrality agreement" with Microsoft over unionizing workers at Activision Blizzard. The "ground-breaking agreement," which will take effect 60 days after Microsoft completes its acquisition of the studio, "reflects a fundamental belief by both organizations that enabling workers to freely and fairly make a choice about union representation will benefit Microsoft and its employees."

The deal between Microsoft and the CWA is built around five "basic provisions":

  • Microsoft will take a neutral approach with Activision Blizzard employees who express interest in joining a union.
  • Employees covered by the agreement will be able to talk with each other and union representatives without hassles or headaches.
  • Employees will have access to a streamlined process for deciding whether or not they want to join a union.
  • Employees can choose to keep their decision about whether or not to join a union confidential.
  • If there is a disagreement between the CWA and Microsoft, they will negotiate "promptly" to resolve it, and move to "expedited arbitration" if they cannot.

"This agreement provides a pathway for Activision Blizzard workers to exercise their democratic rights to organize and collectively bargain after the close of the Microsoft acquisition and establishes a high road framework for employers in the games industry," CWA President Chris Shelton said. 

"Microsoft’s binding commitments will give employees a seat at the table and ensure that the acquisition of Activision Blizzard benefits the company's workers and the broader video game labor market. The agreement addresses CWA’s previous concerns regarding the acquisition, and, as a result, we support its approval and look forward to working collaboratively with Microsoft after this deal closes."

The agreement carries no official weight until the deal is closed, but it does explain Activision Blizzard's announcement last week that after months of resistance, it will recognize and enter into "good faith negotiations" with the newly-established QA workers union at Raven. Not long after the workers voted to unionize, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said Microsoft will not oppose unionization efforts if and when the acquisition of Activision Blizzard is completed; now it appears that Microsoft was actively negotiating the situation with the CWA, and while the terms of the deal may not be official for some time yet, the mere fact that it exists effectively locks current Activision Blizzard leadership into it.

"Earlier this month we announced a set of principles that will guide our approach to labor organizations, and the Activision Blizzard acquisition is our first opportunity to put these principles into practice," Microsoft president and vice chair Brad Smith said. "We appreciate CWA’s collaboration in reaching this agreement, and we see today’s partnership as an avenue to innovate and grow together."

Activision Blizzard shareholders recently approved the proposed Microsoft buyout, but it still has to be approved by the US Federal Trade Commission, which is not necessarily a sure thing.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.