A group of Microsoft temp workers successfully unionize after long battle

Kareem Anderson

Since Microsoft’s new CEO Satya Nadella took office, the company has been reorganizing its hierarchy of product management while also trimming the fat of a onetime ballooning employee count. At its peak, Microsoft employed some 120,000 plus employees across the globe; Nadella has sought to shave a few thousand off that number over the course of the last two years.

Unfortunately, Nadella’s successful job cutting rounds have resulted in the loss of the company’s mobile hardware division as well as several positions within its marketing business and a substantial loss in its long-term contracted employee count.

Fortunately, according to the Seattle Times, a segment of contracted employees managed to stave off unemployment in lieu of an unprecedented union contract with Microsoft’s outsourcing firm Lionbridge.

Lionbridge made up a bulk of reviewers whose job it was to examine Microsoft’s Windows applications. Where most contract jobs result in genuine temporary employment of anywhere from six months to a year, that was not the case for most Microsoft-related Lionbridge assignments. Employees recruited through Lionbridge often benefited from long on-going employment status with Microsoft dating back to 2011, but when Nadella took the helm, he enacted a more widespread and father reaching testing strategy with the Windows Insider program.

In a single swipe, Microsoft went from several hundreds of contracted employees on the Windows project to a million plus (free) testers in the span of two years and in turn began attempting to shed the seemingly financially redundant hiring of Lionbridge contracts. Microsoft’s move, while a shareholder’s delight, only emphasizes a growing concern among many in the tech industry.

Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington who focuses on the technology industry, said concerns about the place of workers have grown along with the perception of economic instability after the financial crisis.

You have a destabilization, a lot of people going from feeling somewhat secure, to a feeling that upward mobility has stopped,” she said. “The future is not as bright as it might have seemed a couple of generations earlier.”

Thankfully, the work of Temporary Workers of America (TWA) led by the dedicated Philippe Boucher, managed to secure an unionized foothold for employees threatened by mounting evidence of economy equality backed by a shifting tech industry workforce. Boucher managed to get discussions going with Lionbridge that involved establishing paid leave, parental leave and raises, despite the temporary nature of contracted work.

Remond Campus
Remond Campus

In the end, Lionbridge and Microsoft seemed to have come to a mutually beneficial conclusion that had Microsoft announcing that it would require “its contracting firms to offer employees working on Microsoft task in the US a minimum of 15 days of paid time off a year,” according to the Seattle Times. The announcement made waves as the company once housed some 80,000 plus contracted employees worldwide. Granted, a majority of the benefits talk were centered around the US which held some measure of the company’s outsourced work, it was still a relatively large demand from Microsoft.

As far Lionbridge and the TWA were concerned, there was still much left to accomplish, even between the two coming to an agreement about more union specifics. Despite Microsoft’s announcement to offer limited benefits to contracted workers, TWA sought to hold both Lionbridge and Microsoft as joint-employers and thus accountable for even more unionized labor perks. After a few rounds of negotiation between the two parties, Lionbridge and TWA came to the conclusion that a new contract, that included the end of TWA going after Microsoft for joint employment and instead receives raises and severance payments.

Lionbridge contracts would also undergo performance evaluations for employment retention rather than blanket cuts.

The new agreement helps solidify a market of employment sorely overlooked when discussing tech jobs that aren’t related program engineers, venture capitalist or design gurus. Once again, a union discussion (at least in the North America) is developing and this time, it’s to help provide benefits for the ‘blue-collar’ jobs of technology.