A group of video game testers formed Microsoft’s first union in the United States, which will also be the largest in the video game industry.
The Communications Workers of America said Tuesday that a majority of about 300 quality assurance workers at ZeniMax Studios, Microsoft’s video game subsidiary, voted to join the union.
Microsoft has previously told the CWA that it would agree to union formation at its Maryland-based video game subsidiary, fulfilling a promise it made to try to gain public support for its acquisition of 68, $7 billion from another big game company, Activision Blizzard..
Microsoft bought ZeniMax for $7.5 billion in 2021, giving the Xbox maker control of ZeniMax’s famed game publishing division, Bethesda Softworks, and popular game franchises such as The Elder Scrolls, Doom and Fallout.
Senior game tester Wayne Dayberry said in an interview with The Associated Press that the organizing drive began before Microsoft took over and reflected workplace concerns that are common at video game companies.
“Throughout the industry, quality assurance departments are treated poorly, paid very little, and treated like replaceable cogs,” said Dayberry, who worked for five years at ZeniMax headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, on games such as Fallout, Prey and The Evil Within. .
“There’s not a lot of dignity involved in that,” he said. “It’s something we hope to show people in the industry who are in similar situations, that if we can do it, they can do it too.”
The organizing campaign gained momentum thanks to Microsoft’s ongoing bid to buy California gaming giant Activision Blizzard. Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Wash., made a pact in June with the CWA union to remain neutral if Activision Blizzard workers seek to form a union.
The pro-worker pledge was intended to appeal to concerns of U.S. regulators under President Joe Biden about the labor implications of massive corporate mergers, though that didn’t stop the Federal Trade Commission from suing last month to block Microsoft’s planned acquisition of Activision Blizzard. The antitrust case had its first hearing on Tuesday and could drag on for months.
Two small units of Activision Blizzard workers were the first to certify unions last year in Middleton, Wisconsin and Albany, New York. A third Boston-based subsidiary of Activision Blizzard, Proletariat, filed a petition Dec. 27 with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize its 57 workers.
Microsoft’s legally binding neutrality agreement applied specifically to Activision Blizzard workers after the merger closed. But it also reflects Microsoft’s broader principles on managing unionization, which is still rare in the tech and gaming industries.
Dayberry said Microsoft’s pledge of neutrality gave workers reassurance that there would be no “retaliatory or union-busting, which has never been the case.”
Microsoft’s green light allowed ZeniMax union certification to go through a third-party arbitrator rather than the longer process typically overseen by the NLRB. A week-long election period ended on December 31 and was officially certified on Tuesday. Microsoft said in a statement that it recognizes the union.
“They’ve definitely kept their word from the start,” CWA spokeswoman Beth Allen said. “It’s quite important. Microsoft is an outlier in how tech companies have fared.
Unionized workers are based in Hunt Valley and Rockville, Maryland, as well as the Texas cities of Austin and Dallas.