An earlier National Labor Relations Board ruling in another case has raised union hopes that it could have a “joint employer” be part of negotiations over working conditions.
A union of temporary technology workers asked Microsoft to come to the bargaining table as a joint employer, the latest escalation in the union’s campaign to get better benefits. Microsoft declined the invitation.
A group of about 40 contract workers employed by Lionbridge Technologies to vet Microsoft Windows applications voted last year to charter a union as part of a campaign for paid time off. After a year of collective bargaining talks, the Temporary Workers of America union and Lionbridge haven’t agreed to terms on a contract.
With the latest round of talks looming, union President Philippe Boucher asked Microsoft on Oct. 17 to attend Friday’s bargaining meeting with Lionbridge lawyers. Microsoft should be considered a joint employer because of “the significant control Microsoft has on our working conditions,” Boucher said in a letter to Microsoft human resources chief Kathleen Hogan.
Microsoft opted not to attend Friday’s meeting.
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The Temporary Workers of America are Lionbridge employees, not Microsoft employees, Microsoft Chief Procurement Officer Michael Simms said in an email to Boucher.
Microsoft sets high standards for the treatment of its own employees, and hopes to serve as an example to other companies, but does not control Lionbridge’s employment policies, Simms said.
In his letter asking for Microsoft to participate in talks, Boucher cited a National Labor Relations Board ruling this year that made it easier for employers of contractors or franchisees to bring the hiring firm to the bargaining table.
That ruling determined that Browning-Ferris Industries, a waste management company, was a “joint employer” of workers its subcontractor had hired at a recycling plant. Browning-Ferris, the board ruled, exerted indirect control over the workers’ terms of employment, entitling those workers the right to bargain with both their direct employer and Browning-Ferris.
The union’s request of Microsoft “is exactly what [employers] sort of feared would happen,” said Rebecca Bernhard, a labor lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney. “That this would be the ammunition that union folks would have to bring bigger employers to the table in these sort of arrangements.”
Should the Temporary Workers of America petition the NLRB to include Microsoft in talks under the precedent set by the Browning-Ferris case, “they’ll have to look at it under those facts. Is Microsoft really the employer?”
Microsoft relies on contractors for everything from software coding and testing to setting up conference rooms and strategy consulting. The Redmond company recently was using the services of about 81,000 contractors worldwide, including both full- and part-time staff, according to a person familiar with the data. Microsoft at the end of September employed 115,000 regular full-time employees.
The Lionbridge workers, hourly employees whose salaries range from about $17 to $25 an hour, have worked on Microsoft’s Redmond campus and in company office space in Bellevue.
Microsoft in 2000 agreed to a $97 million settlement of a lawsuit brought by about 8,000 temporary workers who had sued the company, arguing they were misclassified full-time employees and entitled to company benefits.
The company subsequently drew up rules in an effort to create a firm line between contractors and full-time employees, but the approach hasn’t always worked, some area contractors say.
Microsoft earlier this year introduced a requirement that many of its contractors offer its workers 15 days of paid time off a year, though the stalled bargaining talks have prevented that benefit from applying to Temporary Workers of America members.
After Friday’s bargaining meeting, Boucher said he would put Lionbridge’s existing contract proposal, which includes the paid time off mandated by Microsoft but none of the other benefits the union was seeking, up for a vote.
“Not sure there is enough energy to keep fighting,” Boucher said.