Microsoft Commits to Maintaining Neutrality in Union Campaigns

Microsoft will stay neutral if any group of U.S.-based workers seeks to unionize. Roughly 100,000 workers would be eligible to unionize under the framework, which was disclosed Monday by Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. president, Liz Shuler, during a forum at the labor federation’s headquarters in Washington. The deal effectively broadens a neutrality agreement between Microsoft and a large union, the Communications Workers of America, under which hundreds of the company’s video game workers unionized early this year without a formal National Labor Relations Board election. Microsoft and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. said they would collaborate to resolve issues that arise from the adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace.

Mr. Smith and Ms. Shuler said the partnership would include meetings in which artificial intelligence experts from Microsoft brief labor leaders and workers on developments in the field. “Never before in the history of these American tech giants, dating back 50 years or so ago, has one of these companies made a broad commitment to labor rights,” said Ms. Shuler. “It is historic. Not only have they made a commitment, they formalized it and put it in writing.”

Workers’ anxiety over artificial intelligence appears to have grown over the past few years. Microsoft’s experts will also seek input from workers so they can develop technology in a way that addresses their concerns, such as the risk of job elimination.

The unveiling of the A.I. initiative comes a few weeks after the board of the start-up OpenAI, which makes ChatGPT, fired the company’s chief executive, Sam Altman, only to accept his reinstatement days later. Microsoft is OpenAI’s biggest investor and played a role in reinstating Mr. Altman. When Microsoft announced a neutrality agreement with the communications workers union in June 2022, the offer was conditional: The company was in the process of acquiring the video game maker Activision Blizzard for nearly $70 billion. A few months later, when roughly 300 workers sought to unionize at ZeniMax Media, a video game company owned by Microsoft, Microsoft agreed to abide by the neutrality agreement in that case as well. The agreement allowed them to indicate their preference for a union either by signing authorization cards or anonymously through an electronic platform, a more efficient process than an N.L.R.B. election.

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