Understanding Microsoft

Part 23. The Sweatshop

A series of shocking revelations in the last year has brought to light the sinister practice of slavery taking place right here in America, as well as in little shops, backrooms, and ghetto firetraps all over the world. Products with swank, high-class nametags and expensive brands attached have turned out to be nothing more than rags sewn together in slave-labor hovels by a secret underclass. Television personality Kathie Lee Gifford was embarrassed publicly by the discovery that her own brand of clothing was produced in a Central American clothing sweatshop.

It turns out that the combination of cheap global transportation with a fractured monetary system has made it extremely lucrative to have goods manufactured by one class in one set of circumstances, and transported to another set of environs to be consumed by a different class. In the most severe cases, outright imprisonment in a form of labor camp exists, such as in a Southern California compound just a few blocks from the San Bernardino Freeway, where dozens of illegal aliens were kept in cells behind barbed wire to assemble clothing and trinkets, some for as long as 15 years of imprisonment. Who knows how many of these makeshift gulags exist undetected in our midst?

At the other end of the sweatshop spectrum exists Microsoft. Rather than use physical coercion to get want they want from workers, Big M has used non-compete contracts, perma-temps, and massive turnover rates of short-term employees to keep their employee overhead costs down and prevent the competition from hiring their skilled rejects. For example, one recent lawsuit that Microsoft lost and is currently appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court involved thousands of so-called "temps" who worked for up to six years as "statutory employees" but without stock options and other MS perks. If the Supreme Court does not overturn this decision, Microsoft will be required to dole out options for perhaps $1500 worth of 1988 Microsoft stock. At today's market valuation, that amounts to something like $75,000 for each perma-temp, or perhaps half a billion dollars for the class, not counting any penalties or other required payments.

A January 1997 article in *Details* magazine illustrates a typical "eleven weeks of hell" for one writer who was cut from the company rolls just a few days before becoming eligible for insurance and other benefits. Fulltime workers are often expected to spend far more than the mere 40 hours weekly for which they are paid; some feel compelled to put in 80 or even 100 hours per week for their bosses, but as white-collar workers they receive zero compensation for the extra time. During former DEC manager David Cutler's reign over the WindowsNT development project, whole teams of workers were in lockdown for weeks at a time, forbidden to leave the plant to see their spouses and children, according to the *Wall Street Journal*.

But of all the lowdown tactics used to keep worker overhead to a minimum, the dirtiest is found in *Newsbytes'* report of Microsoft contracting packaging company Exmark to use the Twin Rivers Correctional Center (TRCC) in Washington State for packaging of Microsoft promotional materials and demo disks for Windows95, so that inmates fed and sheltered by the Washington State Department of Corrections at minimum wage could steal jobs from needy and unemployed Seattle-area youth. I wonder what Kathie Lee would say about this?

Most recent revision: January 14, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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