Saturday, May 18, 2013

Permatemps at Microsoft in 1999

Below two articles that describe the permatemps situation at Microsoft in 1999.
What about now in 2013? Isn't the situation very much the same as 14 years ago?

From Wired (no date)

 When employers in Washington state stopped paying overtime, temporary Microserf Mike Blain decided to throw off his chains. 

When it rains, it pours. Even as Microsoft's lawyers prepare for their showdown with the Feds in antitrust court, a rabble-rousing group of temporary workers are starting to organize in Bill Gates's own backyard.
"We have to organize," says Mike Blain, a cofounder of the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, better known as WashTech. "The industry can get whatever it wants because there's no voice for workers."
Blain, a technical editor pulling down US$30 an hour, says tech temps are treated as second-class citizens and need an organization to lobby for their interests. While most temps are happy to give up stock options and health insurance for flexibility and higher pay, Blain describes temp agencies as "parasitic."
"Bloodsucking," he seethes for emphasis. "They add no value whatsoever."
Blain and more than a dozen other temps - half of them from a pool of about 5,000 on the Redmond campus - founded WashTech after the state's labor department allowed employers to eliminate mandatory overtime pay for high tech workers who make more than $27.63 per hour. "My first reaction was, 'They can't get away with that,'" says Blain. "My second reaction was, 'They just gave us an amazing organizing hook.'"
So far, 900 people have joined the WashTech mailing list. The group is on the hunt for funds, with a long-term goal of establishing a worker-owned cooperative for high tech free agents in the Puget Sound area. WashTech is also setting up meetings with other Microsoft temps, pejoratively known as "A-dashes" - a reference to a temp-status code that prefaces their email addresses. Microsoft doesn't seem too concerned. "We've read about WashTech," says company spokesperson Jim Cullinan. "We don't know much about them."

- Spencer E. Ante

From Non profit On line news April 1999$3588

WashTech recently completed a survey of Microsoft contractors, covering such topics as the voluntary or involuntary nature of contract work, agency representation with regard to the best interests of the employee, degree of employee choice in agencies, wage rate disclosure, benefits, and length of contact.
Contrary to Microsoft publicity, 70% percent of respondents said they did NOT choose to work as contractors; they would prefer instead to be regular full time employees.
65% believe agencies do NOT represent the employee's best interests on the job.
90% support instituting full disclosure of billing rates (the agency charges for the employee's services versus the employee pay rate), and 90% believe (unlike current policy) employees should be allowed free choice of contract agency, should one be required.
The survey also found the average length of a temporary employee's stay at Microsoft to be 19 months, while Microsoft claims 70% of their contract work force is employed for 9 months or less.
65% of those surveyed had been working at Microsoft for over a year.
With no competition between agencies who handle contractors, the agencies have little incentive to act on the behalf of their employees. 
Job placement assistance is minimal, agencies are unresponsive to grievances and they are less willing to advocate for people trying to get raises or performance reviews.
Many agencies don't offer paid vacation, or sick leave. The assertion that contract employees make more money than permanent employees is fallacious, comparing hourly take home pay versus the take home pay of salaried employees who accrue benefits and in-kind payments.
Questionably legal non-compete agreements required by some agencies can also make it difficult to find further assignments after an employee's original contract ends.
WashTech wants to educate people that a contract is a NEGOTIATION.
The union is focusing on the issues of full disclosure of billing rates and agency choice.
Requiring agencies to compete with each other will benefit contract employees by forcing agencies to treat fairly with contractors to retain their business.
Affordable training is also an extreme priority in the rapidly changing high-tech field, which leads to the eventual goal of establishing a union-run computer lab to provide classes for WashTech members as well as members of other unions, as well as a venue for certification efforts and a future apprenticeship program.
Blain indicated two major goals for WashTech this year are increased membership and increased publicity.
Union membership has grown to about 100 since last October, with a intent of reaching 500 dues-paying members.
WashTech has improved publicity regarding how people are treated by the agencies, allowing contractors to make informed decisions, as well as making it harder for policies and legislation detrimental to contract employees to be enacted.
Industry reaction to the union's formation has been mixed.
Some of the employment agencies seem to be responding; even Microsoft has begun implementing some new contract worker policies.
WashTech is rapidly becoming a success by providing a much needed information dissemination function to both its members and the population at large.

 Joy Ralph is a freelance technical writer currently working as an education professional for the government. She received her MA in Anthropology in 1996.

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