Microsoft has promised to be involved in the company’s employee unions and will not try to stop their formation.
Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, said in a blog post last week, “The recent unionization campaign – including in the technology sector – across the country – has led us to conclude that these issues will inevitably affect more businesses, possibly our own.” “It encourages us to think actively about the best practices for our employees, shareholders, customers and other stakeholders.”
Smith pointed to Microsoft’s existing relationship with work councils and unions across Europe, but said the company still had “much to learn” from engaging with labor organizers in the United States at work. He said the company has met with “prominent labor, business and academic leaders” in recent months to discuss its strategy.
A new direction for US technology
Thomas A. Kochan, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, described Microsoft’s statement as “a bold and welcome commitment.”
“This represents a break for most American employers from knee-jerk responses to preventing all sorts of worker unions,” he said. “Today’s workforce hopes to hear, and it wants to work constructively with management to build better labor / management relationships. Let’s hope Microsoft is not the first but the last driver to take this intelligent approach.”
By recognizing the right of workers to organize, Microsoft’s position differs from others in the technology industry who have faced union push, particularly Apple and Amazon. Apple has reportedly hired “anti-union” lawyers to block employee moves to unionize several stores across the United States. Amazon has been facing union-busting accusations in recent months over warehousing workers, where workers have won a significant electoral victory at its JFK8 facility earlier this year.
Smith has hinted that Microsoft will not stand in the way of efforts to organize within the company to move forward. “We recognize that employees have the legal right to form or join a union,” he said. “We respect this right and do not believe that our employees or other stakeholders in the company benefit from resisting the legitimate employee’s efforts to participate in protected activities, including forming or joining a union.”
However, in an interview Axios On Thursday, Smith said Microsoft would not encourage employees to join the union. “Our employees will always have direct access to the senior leaders of this company,” he said. “There is no need to form a union to listen to them.”
The announcement comes as Microsoft video game maker Activision Blizzard is in the process of being acquired on a 68.7 billion deal, with a small number of quality assurance workers recently voting to form the first union at a major US game studio. Questions were raised about how Microsoft would respond to a union within its organization.
The acquisition could be a factor in Microsoft’s willingness to engage more broadly with unions.
“It’s probably acknowledging that power is shifting to the workers, and it’s time to adapt to this new reality,” Cochrane said. “It simply came to our notice then [Microsoft] The federal government does not want to risk seeing opposition to the union as an abuse of power by an exclusive firm as it seeks approval to buy this new business. [Activision Blizzard]”
Weight among labor lawyers
The Communication Workers of America (CWA), a union representing various workers in the technology and game industries, welcomed Microsoft’s statement, although it noted that the company’s words should be implemented now.
CWA Secretary-Treasurer, Sarah Stephens, said, “Across the technology and game industry, employees are demonstrating their commitment to their colleagues and their company by organizing to improve their workplace.”
“The public statement of respect for Microsoft employees’ freedom to form a union is encouraging and unique among major technology companies. To truly give a legally protected voice to decisions that affect employees and their families, these policies must be put into practice and included in Microsoft’s day-to-day operations and expectations for its contractors, “he said.
The “collaborative model” of industrial relations is associated with general and high social well-being and labor productivity in Europe, says Dennis M. Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
“In order for Microsoft and other US-based companies to be more cooperative, they need to skate around U.S. labor law, which is based on the separation of interests and hostile relations – but I believe it is possible,” he said. “My personal opinion is that companies get their due labor relationship based on the way they treat and respect employees.”
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