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Labor Union Censored Report Criticizing Microsoft’s Military Contracts

Labor union officials, indicating they were acting on behalf of the Communication Workers of America, blocked publication of a report critical of Microsoft’s growing and under-the-radar support for the U.S. military and intelligence agencies. The UNI Global Union, a global federation of labor unions that counts CWA as an affiliate, had initially commissioned a report by Tech Inquiry, an investigative nonprofit led by Jack Poulson that serves as a watchdog of the tech industry. But UNI suddenly backtracked after a landmark neutrality deal this summer between CWA and Microsoft in which the Seattle-based tech giant pledged not to oppose efforts by workers at Microsoft subsidiary Activision seeking to form a union. “Because Microsoft came out and did what they did, in terms of respecting workers rights to organize, we do not, we cannot be associated with this paper and its release,” a UNI official told Tech Inquiry, delivering the news.
CWA and UNI both said that CWA did not have any knowledge of the report prior to publication. “The UNI staff person quoted by the publication did not make this decision regarding this research and was not speaking on behalf of the organization,” said Matthew Painter, a spokesperson for UNI, in a statement. UNI said it killed the report because it “determined it was unhelpful to publish the research product as presented because it was not useful to our ongoing global effort to hold Amazon accountable.” The censored report, as yet unpublished, is available here.
According to Tech Inquiry, the sponsors of the report killed the project over political considerations. The same UNI official who spoke to Tech Inquiry this month explained that Microsoft’s pledge to allow the process of organizing, which could mean “thousands [of workers] are able to organize unions and win collective bargaining agreements,” had placed CWA in a tough position. Poulson did not want to reveal the specific union official’s identity, since it was clear he was serving as a messenger. “I really don’t want to evoke the contract language, and bury this paper like, I feel like that would be fucked up and a disservice to the world,” said the UNI official. “But by the same token, there’s just, we cannot let you have our name in this document and jeopardize our relationship with CWA, CWA’s relationship with Microsoft, the Activision workers’ right to organize, my job, like, it’s just too much. It’s too much, it will never stand. I will be fired.” “Our affiliates, they pay a portion of my salary,” the UNI official added. Asked why issues with CWA would undermine a report technically sponsored by UNI, the UNI official clarified that he was acting on behalf of CWA. “We have a financial relationship with CWA. They are one of our members.” Later, during the call, the UNI official again referenced the original contract, which makes Tech Inquiry’s research findings “confidential” and exclusively owned by UNI Global Union. “Speaking of the contract, I mean, it actually says that the report is ours, right,” said the official, before later adding that the contract clause was designed to “protect” the “myriad political considerations we have as an organization” in “situations like this.” No workers at Activision have yet obtained a formal labor union contract, but organizing efforts are currently underway at several divisions of the company. In May, quality assurance workers at Raven Software, a division of Activision, voted to join the Game Workers Alliance, a project of CWA, in a ballot that passed with 19 of 22 votes in favor. The Microsoft pledge stands in sharp contrast to other technology giants, which have viciously opposed union drives with outside consultants and creative attempts to undermine employee support for organized labor. The neutrality agreement could not only improve the living standards of Activision workers with enhanced workplace protections and higher wages, but also serve as a vast financial windfall for CWA, which stands to potentially collect a portion of worker salaries as dues money. The UNI Global Union, along with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, an affiliate of the German Social Democratic Party, pledged support for the research project beginning in September 2021. Poulson, the founder of Tech Inquiry, is a former research scientist at Google who resigned from the company in protest of its secret efforts to build out a censored search engine in China. Poulson is also a contributor to The Intercept. The labor union official offered an apology to Tech Inquiry for pressing for the completion of the investigative project, only to censor it just prior to release. “No one could have predicted Microsoft would become, seek to become a pro-union employer, like that would have been like flying pigs, you know. I never would have predicted that,” the official said.

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