When you think of Silicon Valley and the Tech Industry, you think of Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and other computer-based technology companies. I also think of transportation and manufacturing technology companies because I do a lot of work in that space.
We can now think of unionized workforces, too. As a result of the Communications Workers of America’s (CWA) Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE), tech, gaming, and digital employees are joining unions.
Companies like Glitch, Kickstarter, Alphabet (fka Google), Medium, NPR, Change.org, and New York Times Tech staff, Amazon.com, Inc., and Apple have all voted to join unions.
The most interesting tech-sector union story involves Microsoft.
The story starts with Activision’s acquisition of video game makers Raven Software (Wisconsin) and Blizzard Albany (New York). Quality Assurance employees at Raven and Blizzard voted to form micro-units and join the CWA.
Activision also acquired video game maker Proletariat (Massachusetts) whose employees filed a petition for an election to organize all non-management employees in a wall-to-wall unit.
Microsoft is in the process of acquiring Activision Blizzard for $69 billion. If the deal closes, Microsoft will acquire those unions, too. But, the Federal Trade Commission has sued to stop the purchase for fear it would give Microsoft a monopoly.
Simultaneously, Microsoft acquired ZeniMax where 300 quality assurance testers voted to unionize. This is Microsoft’s first union and the largest gaming union in the country.
Microsoft committed to staying neutral in the ZeniMax union organizing drive. After hearing only the union’s opinions about why it believes a union is in the employees’ best interest, ZeniMax employees either signed a union authorization card or voted anonymously through an online platform.
This unorthodox procedure was likely a move to placate the FTC’s scrutiny of Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard.
Ironically, the CWA initially voiced reservations about Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision. But after the neutrality agreement and unionization of ZeniMax employees, the CWA now sings a different song. The CWA president even met with the chair of the FTC to urge support for the deal. Funny what a union win can do to a union’s opinion of a company.
CWA’s Chief of Staff said Microsoft’s labor neutrality sets a precedent for corporations pursuing mergers – and should be recognized by the Biden administration. The CWA now says the suit, “was a huge missed opportunity to really give workers a seat at the table when it comes to mergers and acquisitions.” It is also hopes “the FTC will figure out a way to settle its differences with Microsoft over this transaction.”
Unions are making great strides in organizing technology companies. As technology continues to evolve and become even more indispensable to operations, companies who rely heavily on technology to operate must be vigilant of the union organizing activity in your industries.
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Matt Austin is a nationwide management labor lawyer. Labor laws govern virtually all private-sector employees regardless of union membership. Proactive management of labor relations is critical to maintaining flexibility and increasing profit.
Matt also runs Austin Legal’s HR Legal Compliance Program that, for a small monthly fee, ensures HR decisions are protected by the attorney-client privilege.
Matt’s experience is deeply rooted in helping manage many aspects of his clients’ businesses. To effectively manage labor relations, he must also manage budgets, forecasts, new growth areas, and projected market corrections. High emotional intelligence is also critical to negotiating union contracts and to properly advise HR Legal Compliance members through the nuances of the law, its application to their companies, and how it will be received by employees.
You can reach Matt via email at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.