The self described “start up union” Temporary Workers of America posted news on its website earlier this week that all “Tier 1”, or lower level contractors in Lionbridge’s Bellevue office who work on a program testing Windows apps for Microsoft will be laid off between now and the end of October. The union represents Tier 1 workers in the Windows app testing program at Lionbridge.
The layoffs include 16 union workers and five non-union personnel, said Tim O’Connell of Stoel Rives, attorney for Lionbridge. Five other people will stay on to continue managing the program. Last month Lionbridge cut about 10 positions from this program.
Reduced demand from Microsoft was the given reason for the layoffs, and O’Connell said the union had nothing to do with it. O’Connell said the union workers will receive severance pay and some may be eligible for other positions at Lionbridge. If the workload picks up, Lionbridge could bring back the laid off employees.
Some are not buying the explanation of less work coming from Microsoft.
“From what the people I talked with told me, they didn’t notice (reduced demand) at all,” said Philippe Boucher, who spearheaded the unionization effort and left Lionbridge earlier this year.
Lionbridge’s Bellevue office has approximately 100 total employees working with a number of clients, and the layoffs only affect the people working on the testing program with Microsoft. Lionbridge also has offices all over the world.
Key provisions of the union contract with Lionbridge, which was signed in early August, included changes to the temporary worker classification, pay raises, severance pay, increased time off and paid holidays.
As part of the union contract, Temporary Workers agreed to drop a “joint employer” claim against Microsoft and Lionbridge, a concession some workers weren’t happy about. The union brought its case to the National Labor Relations Board attempting to force Microsoft to get involved with Lionbridge contract talks, arguing based on a previous NLRB decision that Microsoft is on the hook for working conditions, even though the workers are employed by Lionbridge.
Boucher speculated that getting the NLRB claimed dropped was a big deal for Microsoft and one of the main reasons Lionbridge was willing to negotiate a contract even though layoffs were on the horizon.
Boucher said the union is planning its next move. The contract with Lionbridge includes an arbitration clause but that could be too expensive for the union to get involved in. Boucher said he is examining whether the union has grounds to file a claim with NLRB.
The layoffs are a big blow to the union, whose successful contract negotiations was seen as a big victory for contractors. They are often ineligible for the robust benefit packages that tech companies use to attract and retain top talent. Some firms are trying to close that gap by extending benefits to contract workers who often work in the same office right alongside traditional employees. Last year, Microsoft mandated its suppliers — the tens of thousands of “orange badge” workers provided by outside technology staffing companies, who work alongside the “blue badge” Microsoft employees — give employees 15 days of paid leave per year.
Shortly after Microsoft’s announcement, Facebook made a similar move that requires a $15 minimum wage, 15 paid days off and a $4,000 “new child benefit” to help moms and dads take parental leave.