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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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March 16, 2009 5:28 PM

More labor unrest at Microsoft: Custodians want subcontractor to restore jobs

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 6 demonstrated at Microsoft's Redmond campus for a second day Monday. Their gripe is not with the software giant but with a subcontractor, SBM Site Services of Sacramento, Calif., which was awarded the custodial contract in December to clean buildings at the corporate campus.

Since then, SBM has reduced the number of workers on the contract to 300. Jessica Berg, a spokesperson, said the company has laid off only 10 workers. The SEIU agrees that there are about 300 workers on the contract now, but says that represents a reduction of 60 jobs from the previous subcontractor, ABM Janitorial Services. Fred Prockiw, an organizer with Local 6, said ABM employed about 360 people for the same workload. A representative of ABM could not immediately be reached.

The remaining employees say they're being asked to make up the slack.

"The workload's too much," said Dirk Koteles, 56, who picks up trash and sweeps Microsoft's parking garages for $12.50 an hour, plus medical benefits. "They won't give us overtime to do all this extra stuff. They expect us to get everything done in eight hours."

SBM Site Services performs the custodial work at Microsoft as a subcontractor for Grubb & Ellis, which manages the buildings on the company's headquarters campus. A Grubb & Ellis representative could not be reached for comment.

Berg said the decision to downsize was "purely internal."

"There was no pressure placed on SBM by any external organizations," she said. "It's just downsizing, same as everybody else is trying to manage their expenses and productivity rates in this economy. Workforce reductions are just necessary during this time."

Prockiw said he doesn't think this is like other layoffs going on throughout the economy. "This is purely a greed cut," he said.

Relations between the union and SBM appear rocky. Berg said the company tried to work with the union leadership on the job cuts after notifying them last month.

"And unfortunately they decided not to participate when it came time to actually do the reductions, so we were forced to move forward without their involvement," she said.

Prockiw said the union did meet with SBM to review the workloads and make changes without cutting jobs. "They back-stabbed us," he said. "They implemented all the layoffs and did everything against everything we discussed."

Estimates of the size of the crowd demonstrating at the corner of 156th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 36th Street differed so dramatically that I'm not going to report a figure here because I didn't see it myself. But they appear to be significantly better organized -- with leaflets and a bullhorn -- than an earlier protest by contract workers facing a 10 percent pay cut.

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