Microsoft President Pledges Company Cooperation In Unionization Efforts
- By Kurt Mackie
- June 03, 2022
A Thursday Microsoft announcement outlined how the company is willing to participate with employees to improve overall working conditions.
The announcement by Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and vice chair, outlined four principles to that end:
- Microsoft's leaders will listen to employee concerns.
- Microsoft's employees have a legal right to decide to join a union.
- Microsoft is "committed to collaborative approaches that will make it simpler, rather than more difficult," for employees to make decisions on union membership.
- Microsoft is "dedicated to maintaining a close relationship" with employees, "including those represented by a union."
Smith opined that "Microsoft's stakeholders," likely meaning its shareholders, would be best served by Microsoft observing these principles.
"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 wrote.
The announcement is arriving the context of a so-called tightened labor market, often ascribed to COVID-19 reactions that began two years ago. Many workers didn't return to jobs, perhaps because they didn't like them in the first place, or they were poorly paid -- or both. Other employees worked from home during the pandemic, when they could.
Microsoft has embraced flexible work conditions for its employees. Meanwhile, other tech companies, such as Tesla, will require on-site work, with company head Elon Musk recently threatening to fire work-at-home white-collar workers.
Microsoft is also making its union-friendly announcement during a supposed tech hiring freeze, which is said to be occurring in reaction to rising interest rates. A recent internal Microsoft memo had indicated Microsoft's plans to go slow on hiring for its Windows and Office divisions, although Microsoft later denied it was instigating a "hiring freeze."
Microsoft also recently tamped down earnings expectations for its fiscal fourth quarter, citing foreign exchange issues.
The other context for Microsoft's union-friendly announcement is the somewhat successful union drives at retail outlets like Starbucks and Amazon.com. In the latter case, Amazon was said to have spied on its warehouse workers regarding their union activities. Google has said that its employee surveillance is designed to protect customer data and trade secrets, although a U.S. National Labor Relations Board complaint had suggested it was being done to fire employees trying to unionize.
Smith noted that Microsoft's "relationships with labor organizations are not new to Microsoft" and "we know that we have a lot to learn."
Microsoft has acted like most U.S. companies with regard to labor. In late 2000, Microsoft had agreed to pay $97 million to settle a lawsuit in which it maintained so-called "permatemp" workers (orange badges). The temp designation was done to cut costs and avoid paying them stock options, health coverage and other employee benefits, even though these permatemp employees had worked for Microsoft for years.
Microsoft also contracted a company to pack Windows 95 boxes using prison labor.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.