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April 03, 2007

David Sirota on Union-Busting at Microsoft . . .

And other reasons for the political emergence of populism around economic issues such as jobs going overseas, trade and stagnant wage levels.  Sirota writes about the connections he made about this issue when he was visiting the Microsoft campus in Redmond.

Here's the first sentence he wrote in an article for the San Francisco Chronicle last Friday:

A RULE of thumb for understanding American politics: The federal government only reacts to popular will when the upper-middle professional class starts making noise. Everyone else's voice falls on deaf ears. This is an unfortunate reality, but it is reality.

Just as the protests against the Vietnam War are much larger than the protests against the Iraq War, largely because middle-class boys were being drafted in the 60's, Sirota contends that he recent emergence of economic populism as a potent politcal issue is due to the job anxiety that upper middle class folks find themselves in now.

Much of the article discusses the anger and anxiety of the well-paid Microsoft workers.  He says it all made perfect sense after he talked with Microsoft workers:

With buzzing twentysomething worker bees and beige low-rise buildings dotting a bucolic setting, the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash., looks like a cross between a university and a suburban office park. The comfortably tranquil image is carefully massaged by company icon Bill Gates, who cheerily testified to Congress this month that "anyone here in the United States who has [computer engineering] skills is going to have a super-high-paying jobs." Yet a darker reality emerges when talking to workers.

They pointed me to company documents published by the worker advocacy group WashTech, proving Microsoft salaries for mid-level full-time employees have been stagnating, even as company revenues rise. They fumed over how the company employs thousands of "permatemps" -- full-time employees technically designated "temporary" so the company does not have to pay them as well or provide them benefits.

Sirota talked discreetly with permatemps who say they are forced to compete with temporary, nonresident workers who are paid $13,000 less per year than American workers in the same jobs.  A total of 1.1 million American information-sector jobs have been eliminated in the last five years.  Here's what one of the Microsoft temps says:

"You can knock yourself out here and do your best and fix a thousand bugs," he said. "But at the end of that, they can -- and often do -- just say goodbye. And everyone here knows that."

And the Union-busting?

WashTech has tried to convert workers' anger into union drives. But those grinning, business-casual Microsoft executives have learned a thing or two about how to bust unions. One example: When a handful of Microsoft workers developing fledgling tax software took an initial step to unionize, the entire project was terminated by management.

Read the entire article.  Jerome a Paris, a regular commenter over at DailyKos has a graph and a post that back up what Sirota is saying 100%. 

Posted by Lynn Allen on April 3, 2007 at 09:31 AM in The Politics of Business, Washington Culture | Permalink

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