Microsoft is bringing on 77 formerly contracted quality assurance workers as full-time employees after negotiations with Communication Workers of America, according to Bloomberg. It’s not unheard of for a major company to make a move like this — Activision Blizzard did it in 2022 — but it is uncommon as the industry deals with a layoff crisis.
Microsoft has been in negotiations with ZeniMax Workers United, a group of 200 QA workers that unionized in January, since April. CWA said it was in those talks that Microsoft agreed to bring these 77 contracted workers into the QA union, moving them from employment under the staffing agency TCWGlobal to Microsoft itself. (These are not the 42 recently unionized Microsoft QA workers employed by Experis Game Solutions.) Several of these employees were to get laid off in the fall, according to the report. But because of the negotiations, 23 people “will get permanent full-time Microsoft jobs, with a 22% pay increase,” Bloomberg said, with the rest signing on as full-time, temporary Microsoft workers. (That includes a “$2.75-an-hour raises and paid sick days and holidays,” according to the report.)
Microsoft has not responded to Polygon’s request for comment.
“It’s made it possible to give a lot of great benefits to a lot of great people and this is a great opportunity for people who normally would feel like they don’t have a voice,” said ZeniMax worker and organizing committee member Aubrey Litchfield told Bloomberg. “The union informed Microsoft last summer that most of the contract staff had agreed to join it.”
It’s a huge step forward from Microsoft’s troubled history with contract workers: The company paid $97 million to temporary workers in 2000 after the workers filed a class action lawsuit in 1992, arguing they were permanent employees, not temporary ones — and deserved the same benefits.
It’s also a break from industry trends as of late. Unionized Dragon Age: Dreadwolf quality assurance workers, employed by Keywords Studios and contracted to BioWare, were laid off from the agency after Keywords lost its BioWare contract. The workers were in union negotiations with Keywords Studios when they were laid off.
QA workers have historically been undervalued in the video game industry, mischaracterized as an entry level, unskilled department. For instance, Bungie leadership reportedly considers QA “non-developers,” according to an IGN report. It’s a sentiment that QA and other staff dispute. That’s why QA workers have led the industry’s unionization movement, pushing for respect and recognition for their impact on video game development.