Microsoft bucks tech's anti-union trend

Microsoft Logo 2022
(Image credit: Future)

What you need to know

  • Unlike rivals like Apple and Amazon in the tech industry, Microsoft said it will embrace unions and is committed to working with employees who want to organize.
  • Microsoft's latest commitment to supporting employees who want to unionize follows Xbox head Phil Spencer's comments supporting union efforts at a division of Activision Blizzard, a gaming studio that it is acquiring. 

In stark contrast to how rivals in the technology industry, like Apple and Amazon, have handled unionization efforts, Microsoft is embracing employees who want to form labor unions. In a blog post, Microsoft president and vice chair Brad Smith said that his company wants to work with employees and union leaders to be practive about recent unionization efforts and issues that are affecting the tech sector.

"This has encouraged us to think proactively about the best approach for our employees, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders," Smith wrote.

In response, Microsoft is outlining a new set of four key principles that will guide how the company will engage with employees, labor organizations, and key stakeholders. 

First, Smith said that Microsoft is committed to listening to the concerns of its employees, and that leaders will have an open door policy so employees can provide feedback for improvement. Second, Microsoft recognizes that employees have a legal right on whether or not to form or join a union, and that it will respect that right. Third, if employees wish to join a union, the company is committed to working collaboratively with unions. And lastly, Microsoft is dedicated to maintaining a close relationship with all employees, even those represented by unions.

"We approach these issues with a deep appreciation of the vital and innovative role our employees play in the development and adoption of new technologies," Smith wrote in his blog post. "This depends on a shared company culture that is grounded in a growth mindset focused on listening, learning, and evolving our approaches together, especially on important issues in a rapidly changing world."

Though it's unclear how many employees have expressed interest in joining a union at this time, Microsoft's approach appears aligned with the company's statement of ethics and its standards of business conducts. A key component of Microsoft's trust code is that it takes everyone to work together to create an atmosphere of respect, inclusion, and collaboration. With these new guidelines for engaging with unions, Microsoft appears to be honoring the ideas of inclusion, collaboration, and mutual respect. 

Union talks at Microsoft started at around the same time that the company announced it would be acquiring game publisher Activision Blizzard. Employees at one division of the publisher, Raven Software, was in the process of unionization, and at the time Xbox head Phil Spencer stated he would recognize the union.

“Once the deal closes, we would absolutely support employees’ organization that’s in place,” said Spencer. “We think it is a right of employees and something that can be a part of a relationship between a company and people who work at the company.”

In an interview with the Washington Post, Spencer said that Microsoft would respect Activision Blizzard's employees' choice on whether to be represented by a labor union. 

This is in stark contrast to rival Apple, which have made headlines in its alleged efforts to stifle unionization at its retail location. Apple's leadership has not publicly opposed union efforts from employees, however, a leaked memo provided retail store managers with talking points to dissuade employees from unionizing. Unlike Apple, however, Microsoft no longer operates retail stores after having shuttering them during the global health pandemic. 

Similar to Apple, Amazon has been in the news for its attempt to curb unionization efforts from employees. 

For its part, Microsoft hopes that its open and ethical approach to engaging with employees could help it attract and retain talent.

"We’re willing to bet that a company that listens to and works well with its employees is likely to have a winning hand," Smith said. 

Chuong Nguyen

Chuong's passion for gadgets began with the humble PDA. Since then, he has covered a range of consumer and enterprise devices, raning from smartphones to tablets, laptops to desktops and everything in between for publications like Pocketnow, Digital Trends, Wareable, Paste Magazine, and TechRadar in the past before joining the awesome team at Windows Central. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, when not working, he likes exploring the diverse and eclectic food scene, taking short jaunts to wine country, soaking in the sun along California's coast, consuming news, and finding new hiking trails.