Bethesda QA workers are forming a union of their own

ZeniMax Workers United Twitter header
(Image credit: ZeniMax Workers United (via Twitter))
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QA workers at Bethesda Softworks parent company ZeniMax Media have launched a union, the ZeniMax Workers United – CWA, becoming the first group of employees at Microsoft to do so.

"Today we, a majority of QA workers at ZeniMax, are proud to announce the launch of our union with @CWAunion," the ZeniMax Workers United tweeted (opens in new tab). "We are the first group of workers at Microsoft to formally unionize. We are empowered to advocate for ourselves & build a future where we can thrive alongside the company.

"QA workers at ZeniMax are extremely passionate about our work and the games we make. Having a seat at the table will ensure we receive fair compensation for the work that we do. A union on the job will protect us and make sure our passion isn’t taken for granted."

The union said it hoped to secure four major points for its members:

  • Fair treatment for all individuals and wages commensurate with the value they provide
  • Opportunities for advancement within the company
  • Accountability and transparency
  • A voice in decision making around scheduling, workload and more

(Image credit: ZeniMax Workers United (via Twitter))
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A New York Times (opens in new tab) report quotes some employees who, unsurprisingly, cited crunch as a driving factor behind the move to unionize: One employee who works on The Elder Scrolls Online said ZeniMax recently made overtime hours voluntary, but that many employees still feel pressured to take them on. Pay rates lower than those offered by other software development sectors, like financial or security software, were also noted as a problem.

As it did with Activision Blizzard, Microsoft committed to remaining "neutral" during the voting process, and has apparently stuck to its word: The report says ZeniMax employees have praised the company for not trying to convince employees to vote against unionization. It no doubt behooves Microsoft to do so: Unionization efforts are gaining steam—QA workers at Blizzard Albany (opens in new tab) voted overwhelmingly to join the Game Workers Alliance union over the past weekend—and resisting it would at best be a bad look. That doesn't normally stop large companies from discouraging unionization, but labor peace would also almost certainly serve Microsoft well as it seeks FTC approval (opens in new tab) for its embattled acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

The Communications Workers Alliance union, parent of the Game Workers Alliance (and, presumably, the ZWU), also credited Microsoft for not interfering with ZeniMax unionization efforts, and for opening the door to further game worker unionization efforts in the future.

"When workers have the opportunity to join a union without company interference, it empowers them to have their voices heard in the workplace," the CWA tweeted. "We are glad to support ZeniMax quality assurance workers as they join the growing videogame labor movement in the US.

"We applaud Microsoft for remaining neutral through this process and letting workers decide for themselves whether they want a union.The company is fulfilling the commitments they laid out in their labor principals earlier this yr, while sending a resounding message to the videogame industry: the right to freely & fairly make a choice about union representation should be in the hands of the workers, not mgmt. Other videogame and tech giants have made a choice to attack, undermine, and demoralize their workers when they form a union. Microsoft has made a different choice, which other corporations would be wise to emulate for the good of their corporate culture, their workers, and customers."

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Microsoft confirmed its position on the ZeniMax unionization in a statement sent to PC Gamer.

"The recent organizing efforts of ZeniMax employees, and Microsoft and ZeniMax's neutrality toward this, are an example of our labor principles in action," a Microsoft spokesperson said. "We remain committed to providing employees with an opportunity to freely and fairly make choices about their workplace representation."

Microsoft's reaction to ZeniMax's QA union stands in sharp contrast to that of Activision Blizzard, which actively worked to undermine employees seeking to organize in ways ranging from anti-unionization talk (opens in new tab) to withholding pay raises (opens in new tab) from Raven QA workers because of their union-related activity. It refused to even negotiate with Raven's QA union until mid-June; perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, the announcement that Activision Blizzard management would enter into "good faith negotiations" came just a few days ahead of Microsoft's "labor neutrality agreement (opens in new tab)" with the CWA over union efforts at Activision Blizzard.

It's a major step forward, but there's still more to be done before the ZeniMax QA union is a done deal: The union said its election process will continue "over the next four weeks." I've reached out to Microsoft for comment and will update if I receive a reply.

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.