Microsoft agrees to remain neutral in union campaigns


Celebrating one year of important profits As for unions, Microsoft has announced that it will remain neutral if any group of US-based workers tries to unionize.

About 100,000 workers would be eligible to unionize under the framework, which was unveiled Monday by Microsoft President Brad Smith and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler during a forum at the labor federation's headquarters in Washington.

The deal effectively expands a neutrality agreement between Microsoft and a major union, the Communications Workers of America, under which hundreds of the company's video game workers unionized earlier this year without a formal National Labor Relations Board election. Officially, it provides a framework in which any group of Microsoft workers can negotiate their own neutrality agreements with similar terms.

As part of Monday's announcement, Microsoft and the AFL-CIO said they would collaborate to resolve issues arising from the adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace.

Smith and Shuler said the partnership would include meetings in which Microsoft artificial intelligence experts would brief labor leaders and workers on advances in the field. Microsoft 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 cuts.

The two sides said they would work together to help implement policies that would prepare workers for jobs that incorporate artificial intelligence.

“Never before in the history of these American tech giants, which dates back some 50 years, has one of these companies made a broad commitment to labor rights,” Ms. Shuler said. saying in the forum. “It's historic. Not only have they made a commitment, but they have formalized it and put it in writing.”

Worker anxiety about artificial intelligence appears to have increased in recent years. Hollywood writers and actors cited concerns about AI as a key reason for their months-long strikes this year, while Ms. Shuler noted recent survey showing widespread concern among workers that artificial intelligence could cost them their jobs.

“I can't sit here and say it will never displace a job,” Smith said at the forum, alluding to artificial intelligence. “I don't think that's honest.” But he added that “the key is to try to use it to improve jobs,” saying the technology could eliminate tasks that people consider tedious.

The unveiling of the AI ​​initiative comes a few weeks after the board of directors of startup OpenAI, which makes ChatGPT, fired the company's CEO, Sam Altman, just to accept your refund days after. The episode added to widespread concerns about how to ensure companies safely develop and deploy artificial intelligence.

Microsoft is the largest investor in OpenAI and He played a role to reinstate Mr. Altman.

When asked if the controversy over OpenAI was an impetus for the new partnership with unions, Smith demurred, saying the labor initiative had been in the works for months.

“I wouldn't say what happened in the OpenAI boardroom changed it,” he said in an interview after Monday's forum. “But he raised questions about how AI is governed and perhaps lent even more credibility to the kind of partnership we announced today.”

When Microsoft Announced Following a neutrality agreement with the Communications Workers of America in June 2022, the offer was conditional: the company was in the process of acquiring video game maker Activision Blizzard for almost $70 billion. Microsoft pledged to remain neutral in Activision's union elections if the acquisition was successful. (The acquisition since then has been completed.)

A few months later, when some 300 workers sought to unionize At ZeniMax Media, a video game company owned by Microsoft, Microsoft agreed to respect 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 NLRB election.

The 300 employees have unionized (a rarity at large tech companies) and are negotiating a labor contract that includes language restricting the use of AI in their workplace.

Communications Workers of America is one of several dozen unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor federation. After the ZeniMax campaign, communications union leaders believed that Microsoft would likely agree to remain neutral if the union attempted to organize workers in other parts of the company. But Microsoft had never explicitly agreed to do so beyond Activision or ZeniMax.

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