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UNION CALLS FOR ACTION ON MICROSOFT PERSONNEL FILES

 
by Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, CW 9:19pm Wed Jun 7 '00
phone: Gretchen Wilson or Mike Blain, 206-726-8580 contact@washtech.org
 
While we wait to hear Judge Jackson's ruling in the Microsoft antitrust
case, below is some other info about Microsoft's business practices that has not gotten a lot of coverage that we think might be of interest to independent media worldwide.
 
June 7, 2000
 
UNION CALLS FOR ACTION ON MICROSOFT PERSONNEL FILES
 
A Seattle-based high-tech union is calling on elected officials to take
action in response to Microsoft’s continued violation of a state law that
guarantees workers access to personnel files kept on them by employers.
 
Based on information supplied by company sources, the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers (WashTech) has documented that Microsoft keeps personnel files ­ including performance evaluations and “eligibility ratings” -- on more than 10,000 current and former contract workers. Microsoft employs more than 5,500 workers -- including approximately 30 percent of its total Seattle-area workforce -- through employment agencies. Microsoft consults these files when making all hiring decisions for contract and permanent positions at the company.
 
While keeping such personnel files is not illegal, denying workers access to them violates Washington state law. In January of this year, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries declared that the records Microsoft keeps on its agency contractors are indeed “personnel files” under state law, despite company claims to the contrary, and that Microsoft is obligated to grant workers access to the files. Despite this agency opinion, and mounting complaints filed with the state by workers seeking access to these files, Microsoft refuses to comply with the statute.
 
“With attention focused on the antitrust trial, Microsoft is able to evade
state law by playing word games about what constitutes an ‘employee’ or a ‘personnel file’,” said WashTech member Mike Blain. “We are calling on our state government to guarantee that all workers enjoy equal rights and protections under the law.”
 
In order to strengthen state law, WashTech recommends the
following governmental actions: 1. As Microsoft is a leading employer in Washington state, and as the state labor agency has issued an opinion clearly stating that the files in question are personnel files, WashTech feels the state attorney general and/or King County prosecutor should now pursue misdemeanor charges against
Microsoft for every instance of non-compliance with Washington state law covering access to personnel files (RCW 49.12.240 and RCW 49.12.250).
 
2. The Washington State Legislature should revise state law to remove the two-year statute of limitations for reviewing one's personnel files, and add language ensuring that all workers - whether contract, vendor, temporary, or “regular” employees - have the same rights to review information kept on them by employers.
 

3. The Washington State Legislature should amend state law to add

meaningful sanctions or penalties in the event of employer non-compliance regarding employee access to personnel files.
 
Background
In the fall of 1999, WashTech was anonymously given copies of sample personnel file records being maintained by Microsoft on temporary workers. These files were marked with information labeling workers as “Eligible”, “Eligible with Feedback”, “Eligible with Serious Feedback” or “Ineligible” for future employment at Microsoft.
 
The files consist primarily of e-mail threads originating from Microsoft’s Human Resources Department, and typically contain communications between company managers and agency
representatives. Information in some files indicates possible violations of federal labor laws. For instance, one manager rated a worker as “ineligible” for future work at Microsoft because she discussed wages with a co-worker. The National Labor Relations Act protects the right of workers to voluntarily discuss their wages and working conditions with other employees free from management retribution.
 
On January 26, 2000, WashTech received a letter in response to a request for clarification from Greg Mowat, program manager for the state’s Employment Standards Program. The letter stated, “The department believes, based on careful review of both legislative and judicial sources that Microsoft is a co-employer of the contingent or temporary staff worker and … [the workers] have a right to review performance evaluations and supervisory comments as bonafide personnel information…”
 
WashTech has received copies of nearly 100 e-mails from workers who have requested their records. Microsoft’s Human Relations department has sent blanket denials of access in response to each of these requests and has yet to release any personnel files.
 
WashTech is affiliated with the Communications Workers of
America, AFL-CIO.
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