As we approach the second quarter of the 21st century, the American economy continues to evolve. Our free market is being reshaped in part by changing public expectations about the nature of work and the responsibilities of corporations. Technology is contributing to these changes, and the tech sector itself is addressing anew a facet that has long been important to the U.S. economy and American democracy – the right of workers to organize.
Recent unionization campaigns across the country — including in the tech sector — have led us to conclude that inevitably these issues will touch on more businesses, potentially including our own. This has encouraged us to think proactively about the best approach for our employees, shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders.
Our employees will never need to organize to have a dialogue with Microsoft’s leaders.
But we also recognize the workplace is changing. That’s why we are sharing principles to guide our approach with labor organizations.
Today we are announcing a new set of principles around employee organizing and how we will engage with our employees, labor organizations, and other important stakeholders in critical conversations around work.
Two factors are guiding our thinking.
First, while relationships with labor organizations are not new to Microsoft, we know that we have a lot to learn. Many other industries have vastly more experience and knowledge than we do. In recent months we’ve talked with and worked hard to learn from prominent labor, business, and academic leaders. We have built on our company’s own collaborative experiences with works councils and unions in other countries, something I learned about myself in the 1990s when I was responsible for our European corporate and legal affairs. But mostly, we recognize that we have far more learning ahead of us than behind us.
Second, we recognize that the right approach for Microsoft may be different from what will work best for others. Each industry and each company is unique. We approach these issues with a deep appreciation of the vital and innovative role our employees play in the development and adoption of new technologies. This depends on a shared company culture that is grounded in a growth mindset focused on listening, learning, and evolving our approaches together, especially on important issues in a rapidly changing world.
Reflecting these factors, we believe Microsoft’s stakeholders will be served best with an open and constructive approach based on the following four principles:
• We believe in the importance of listening to our employees’ concerns. Our leaders have an open door policy, and we invest in listening systems and employee resource groups that constantly help us understand better both what is working and where we need to improve. But we recognize that there may be times when some employees in some countries may wish to form or join a union.
• We recognize that employees have a legal right to choose whether to form or join a union. We respect this right and do not believe that our employees or the company’s other stakeholders benefit by resisting lawful employee efforts to participate in protected activities, including forming or joining a union.
• We are committed to creative and collaborative approaches with unions when employees wish to exercise their rights and Microsoft is presented with a specific unionization proposal. In many instances, employee unionization proposals may open an opportunity for Microsoft to work with an existing union on agreed upon processes for employees to exercise their rights through a private agreement. We are committed to collaborative approaches that will make it simpler, rather than more difficult, for our employees to make informed decisions and to exercise their legal right to choose whether to form or join a union.
• Building on our global labor experiences, we are dedicated to maintaining a close relationship and shared partnership with all our employees, including those represented by a union. For several decades, Microsoft has collaborated closely with works councils across Europe, as well as several unions globally. We recognize that Microsoft’s continued leadership and success will require that we continue to learn and adapt to a changing environment for labor relations in the years ahead.
We acknowledge that this is a journey, and we will need to continue to learn and change as employee expectations and views change with the world around us. And we recognize that employers and employees will not always agree on all topics – and that is okay.
Perhaps as much as anything, we bring a sense of optimism grounded in an appreciation that success in a competitive global economy requires that businesses and labor strive to work together well.
When I visit officials in Washington, D.C., I sometimes think back to the fact that President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 created a single cabinet agency, the Department of Commerce and Labor. A decade later, this department was divided so two different federal agencies could each focus more squarely on their distinct needs. But then, as now, real progress for companies and the country alike has so often required dialogue, collaboration, and trust between business and labor.
None of us ever knows precisely what challenges the future will bring. But we’re willing to bet that a company that listens to and works well with its employees is likely to have a winning hand.