Quality-assurance workers at Microsoft subsidiary ZeniMax Media voted on Tuesday to form a union with the Communications Workers of America. The new union, ZeniMax Workers United CWA, has more than 300 members, which instantly makes it the largest union of its type in the U.S. video game industry, as well as the first-ever U.S. union at Microsoft.
Microsoft remained neutral during the run-up to the union vote, The New York Times reported. It previously acquired ZeniMax and its network of internal game studios, including Bethesda (The Elder Scrolls, Fallout), in 2021 for $7.5 billion dollars.
“In light of the results of the recent unionization vote, we recognize the Communications Workers of America (CWA) as the bargaining representative for the Quality Assurance employees at ZeniMax,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging in good faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement.”
The unionization efforts at ZeniMax were officially announced in early December. QA workers at the company cited concerns such as low pay, mandatory overtime (a.k.a. “crunch culture”), lax COVID policies, poor communication with management, and employees doing advanced work without corresponding promotions or raises. Many of the workers who voted to unionize were testers on the popular MMORPG The Elder Scrolls Online.
Workers at ZeniMax conducted their unionization via an unconventional method that didn’t involve the National Labor Relations Board. Instead, the vote was held via either an anonymous online vote, or by signing a union authorization card.
This is Microsoft’s second recent brush with games-industry unionization, following an initiative at Activision-owned Raven Software in May. Like ZeniMax Media, Raven’s QA team organized in response to poor treatment by its management, including a series of layoffs that led to a workers’ strike.
Microsoft previously entered into a “labor neutrality agreement” with the CWA in June, where it pledged to officially remain neutral towards any unionization efforts affiliated with the CWA.
This is unique in the larger games industry, where unionization efforts have generally been quietly downplayed at best, and offers a significant loophole for would-be union organizers in the Xbox Game Studios network. Game developers in search of unionization at an Xbox-affiliated studio could ally with the CWA and effectively bypass much if not all of their management, due to Microsoft’s CWA deal.
Over a long enough timeline, this could create an interesting division of labor in the larger video game industry. If Microsoft tacitly uses union labor in its internal projects, it could create a slow drain of talent toward Xbox Game Studios and away from other companies that have come under fire for crunch.