WashTech working for better employee standards

“For decades union organizers across the nation have championed the rights of workers in mines, on docks, in steel mills, at constructions sites, in and anywhere else the people wanted their voices to be heard; most recently at striking newspapers in Seattle. In the last two years another union organization, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, has been taking root in the state to support workers in the growing technology industry. There’s a growing sense among workers that they need some kind of representation on the job, said Marcus Courtney, WashTech’s co-founder, in a phone interview this week. Among employees concerns are lack of benefits, scheduling changes and better severance packages. Some employees have gotten as little as fifteen minutes notice that they would be losing their jobs.The glossy pictures painted of Amazon and Microsoft in the media don’t reflect the working conditions of the thousands of temporary and contingent employees at these companies, Courtney said. They have second class working conditions, but it’s the conditions of the full-time employees that the media always looks at, the guys getting bonuses and perks.Courtney understands the inherit problems employees of the two companies deal with. He was employed as a contractor at Microsoft in 1997.The technology industry is not always in the employee’s corner, according to Courtney. He said that in 1997 the Washington Software Alliance lobbied the Washington State Department of Labor & Industry to change overtime rules to exempt high-tech contractors from getting paid time and a half. Without any of their workers knowing about it, Courtney said. The news media got wind of it and many of the people e-mailing Courtney about it were the first to get involved in what would become WashTech in 1998. The WashTech Mission Statement, posted on the Web site at: www.washtech.org/, states that they are: An organization of high-tech workers and allies joining together to provide an effective voice in the legislative and corporate arenas, and to advocate for improved benefits and workplace rights.WashTech is a local affiliate of the Communications Workers of America.Rob Greenley, who is CEO of Responsible eBusiness Alliance and hosts the WebTalkGuys radio program Saturday mornings, has worked at FreeInternet as well as ShopperBox Networks, and doesn’t think the union movement within the industry is the answer.He said he isn’t an advocate of unions because he never believed in the concept of unions. I think they tend to put companies in bad competitive situations on a local and global basis. They are asked to pay wages that could put them out of business and hurt the employees worse.Greenley believes the day of the union has come and gone, and that Internet companies do a good job taking care of their employees. In the past people walked away from cash compensation and benefits because they were rewarded with stock options. But cash is becoming more and more important and companies are getting back to basic business practices.He said people in customer service within the tech industry have traditionally worked for low wages and moderate benefits and feel a need to band together and make sure the companies take care of them.Greenley’s wife, Dana, left Amazon to establish LoudVox, and shares much of the same opinion about unions as her husband.She worked with about 80 other employees in customer service at Amazon in the Tacoma branch of the company beginning in June, 2000, before being transferred to the editorial department.I have stated this opinion on WebTalkGuys before, she said. I’m not entirely for unions and I don’t think they’ll get a stronghold at Amazon.She said at the time she was hired at Amazon, it was a much desired company to work for. People wanted to get their foot in that Internet base, and it was the most successful Internet company at the time. The idea of a union wasn’t necessary because the people were satisfied.She said employees had a mandatory 60-hour work week during the holiday season, but they were paid triple time. People that worked (in the Tacoma facility) loved their job.She added that the company regularly had pizza parties for the employees and pazama parties, and they pick up the tab. They make it nice.She believes that interest in unionizing Amazon is coming from outside organizations that want to establish a union to make money. It’s profitable for the union to collect dues.She said she recently talked to people working at Amazon that she knew when she was employed there.Everybody’s happy and most of the same people are there, she said. “