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Microsoft gets its first US union

<i>ZeniMax Online Studios</i><br/>
ZeniMax Online Studios

By Jennifer Korn and Catherine Thorbecke, CNN

Developers at a Microsoft-owned gaming studio voted on Tuesday to form the first ever US union at the tech giant, in a milestone moment both for the company and the video game industry.

Some 300 quality assurance workers at Microsoft’s ZeniMax Studios voted to unionize with the Communications Workers of America union, according to the CWA. In a statement provided to CNN, Microsoft said it has agreed to recognize the union.

“In light of the results of the recent unionization vote, we recognize the Communications Workers of America (CWA) as the bargaining representative for the Quality Assurance employees at ZeniMax,” a spokesperson for Microsoft said. “We look forward to engaging in good faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement.”.

The company previously told CNN it would maintain a neutral stance toward the ZeniMax organizing efforts, in keeping with Microsoft’s pledge last June to recognize the rights of workers to organize.

“Microsoft has lived up to its commitment to its workers and let them decide for themselves whether they want a union,” CWA president Chris Shelton said in a statement. “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.”

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.

The organizing efforts at the gaming studio also 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 of Microsoft’s openness to employee organizing efforts. Microsoft last year 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 Federal Trade Commission last month sued to block the Activision deal, alleging it would give Microsoft the ability to harm competition in the video game industry. Microsoft has said it believes “this deal will expand competition and create more opportunities for gamers and game developers.”

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