New York State In-depth

Video game testers from Maryland-based ZeniMax Studios form Microsoft’s first US union – the Baltimore Sun

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 Microsoft video game subsidiary ZeniMax Studios voted to join the union.

Unionized workers are based in Hunt Valley and Rockville, and in the Texas cities of Austin and Dallas.

Microsoft has previously told the CWA that it would accept the formation of the union at its Maryland-based video game subsidiary, fulfilling a promise it made to rally public support for the $68.7 billion acquisition of a another big gaming company, Activision Blizzard.

Microsoft bought ZeniMax in 2021 for $7.5 billion, giving the Xbox maker control of ZeniMax’s well-known game publishing division, Bethesda Softworks, and popular game franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Doom, and Fallout.

Lead games tester Wayne Dayberry said in an interview with The Associated Press that the union campaign began before Microsoft took over and reflected workplace concerns common to video game companies.

“Across the industry, quality assurance departments are mistreated, paid very little, and treated as tradable cogs,” said Dayberry, who spent five years working on games like Fallout, Prey, and The Evil Within at ZeniMax’s Rockville headquarters.

“There’s not much dignity in it,” he said. “It’s something we hope to show to people in the industry who are in similar situations, that if we can do it, so can they.”

The union campaign accelerated thanks to Microsoft’s ongoing bid to buy California games giant Activision Blizzard. Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., struck a pact with the CWA union in June to remain neutral if Activision Blizzard workers attempt to form a union.

The pro-worker pledge was aimed at addressing concerns from US regulators under President Joe Biden about the labor implications of massive corporate mergers, though it didn’t stop the Federal Trade Commission from filing a lawsuit last month to keep Microsoft’s proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard To block. The cartel case had its first hearing on Tuesday and could drag on for months.

Two small units of Activision Blizzard employees were the first to certify unions in Middleton, Wisconsin, and Albany, New York last year. A third Boston-based Activision Blizzard subsidiary, Proletariat, petitioned the National Labor Relations Board on Dec. 27 to unionize its 57 workers.

Microsoft’s legally binding neutrality agreement applied specifically to Activision Blizzard employees after the merger closed. But it also reflects Microsoft’s broader principles for dealing with unionization, which is still uncommon in the tech and gaming industries.

Dayberry said Microsoft’s neutrality pledge gave workers confidence there would be no “retaliation or union busting, which there has been none.”

Microsoft’s green light allowed the ZeniMax union certification to be passed through an external arbitrator rather than the lengthy process normally overseen by the NLRB. A week-long election period ended on Saturday and was officially confirmed on Tuesday. Microsoft said in a statement that it recognizes the union.

“They definitely kept their word the whole time,” said CWA spokeswoman Beth Allen. “It’s pretty significant. Microsoft is an outlier in the way tech companies behave.”

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