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Union urges EC approval of Microsoft-Activision merger

February 21, 2023

By Colin Mann

Ahead of the European Commission’s closed-door hearing on the Microsoft-Activision merger in Brussels, Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Chris Shelton has sent a letter to Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, urging her to consider seriously the positive impact the merger could have on the video game labour market, as workers increasingly seek to form unions within the industry.

While workers have successfully won union representation at two US Activision-Blizzard studios after facing a culture of sexual harassment, discrimination, overwork, exhaustion and retaliation, the company continues to try and stomp out further organizing among its studios and stall contract negotiations for the two unions at Blizzard Albany and Raven Software.

With CWA’s support, Activision-Blizzard workers have filed a number of unfair labour practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that Activision executives have prohibited employees from communicating about ongoing investigations of sexual harassment and working conditions, and threatened or disciplined employees on account of protected concerted activity. In May, the NLRB confirmed that it found merit to allegations that Activision Blizzard allegedly threatened employees for discussing working conditions, wages, and ongoing investigations.

“When the Microsoft acquisition was announced, we studied the implications for labour markets and raised concerns about the potential for increased employer power over workers that could worsen labour monopsony, leading to lower wages and less bargaining power over working conditions,” said Shelton in the letter. “After we raised those concerns, we were able to enter a dialogue with Microsoft that resulted in an agreement to ensure the workers of Activision Blizzard have a clear path to collective bargaining if the merger is completed. 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 labour market. Collective bargaining is an effective counterbalance to employer power over the labour market, as is well documented in empirical research.”

The CWA describes the agreement with Microsoft as “ground-breaking”, representing the first compact of its scale to guarantee neutrality from a tech company in union organising, and provide workers with a clear pathway to seek representation. Especially in the United States, workers who seek to form unions nowadays face severe barriers to exercising basic rights of freedom of association, with frequent firings of union supporters well-documented but not discouraged through any meaningful consequences.

While the binding labour neutrality agreement only applies to organising activity at Activision-Blizzard studios following the merger, Microsoft had the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to respecting workers’ right to organise last month, when software testers at one of Microsoft’s in-house studios, Zenimax, sought union representation. True to its word, Microsoft agreed to a free, fair and neutral process to determine support and recognised the Zenimax union, the first in the software maker’s 47-year history.

”Given the clear pathway to enforceable behavioural remedies for potential consumer harms articulated by the European Commission and other regulators, we hope you will approve this merger and help make history in rebalancing power in labour markets,” added Shelton.

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