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Microsoft says it will respect outcome of Activision Blizzard union drive

(The Washington Post illustration; iStock)
3 min

Microsoft “will not stand in the way” if Activision Blizzard recognizes a union, said the company’s corporate vice president and general counsel, Lisa Tanzi, in a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday.

“Microsoft respects Activision Blizzard employees’ right to choose whether to be represented by a labor organization and we will honor those decisions,” Tanzi said.

In January, Microsoft announced plans to acquire Activision Blizzard, the embattled video game publisher and developer, for nearly $69 billion in an all-cash deal. Fifteen workers at Raven Software, a studio owned by Activision Blizzard, signed a letter Wednesday calling for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to encourage Activision Blizzard to voluntarily recognize their union, the Game Workers Alliance. Microsoft vice chair and president Brad Smith was copied on the letter.

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The letter also denounced Reed Smith, the law firm retained by Activision Blizzard, for publishing anti-union material on its website, specifically a PowerPoint presentation with a slide titled “Types of Employees Unions Exploit.”

“I hope that you will agree that this demeaning and insulting approach to employees who are seeking to improve their workplace should not be tolerated,” reads the letter from the 15 workers.

“The content of this presentation was created for a workshop in 2013 by lawyers who no longer work at the firm," said Phill McGowan, director of corporate communications at Reed Smith. “It does not reflect the way our firm thinks about the rights of employees and employers. These slides have no bearing on the pending CWA representation petition, and were not prepared or used by the lawyers representing Activision Blizzard.”

The Communications Workers of America union, a group that has been supporting Activision Blizzard workers’ organizing efforts, told The Post that Microsoft had not directly responded to the workers’ letter and concerns beyond the statement it provided to media outlets.

In January, 34 Raven quality assurance workers asked management to voluntarily recognize their union. Most of the testers work on the popular game “Call of Duty: Warzone” and had been organizing for months, motivated by recent layoffs, excessive overtime and low pay.

Activision, however, failed to respond by the deadline set by the organizing workers, writing that “unfortunately, the parties could not reach an agreement” in a statement to The Post in January. The workers then filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. They are in the process of waiting for a judge to rule on what the eligible group of workers who can vote to unionize should be.

Activision Blizzard employees have been at the forefront of conversations across the industry about work conditions and corporate misconduct. The company was sued last July by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which accused the video game publisher of having a “'frat boy’ workplace culture.” In the midst of the emerging allegations, employees called for the company’s CEO, Bobby Kotick, to resign and for the studios under the Activision Blizzard umbrella to unionize. On Wednesday, the company was also sued by an anonymous employee alleging sexual harassment, favoritism and sexual battery.

Lisa Bloom, an attorney representing the plaintiff, said to The Post: “Activision has ignored its many sexual harassment victims as its CEO has earned hundreds of millions. He should be fired for cause, as we request in the lawsuit. The victims deserve immediate compensation for their injuries and promotions to which they are entitled. We will continue to file lawsuits until we get full and fair compensation for our clients.”

Activision Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment.