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Microsoft Pri0

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

March 6, 2009 at 6:44 AM

Microsoft contract worker Phil Palios decides labor organizing not for him

Phil Palios, who stepped into the spotlight this week with an attempt to stage a protest against the pay cuts Microsoft contract workers are facing, changed his mind. He had initially planned to reject the 10 percent pay cut passed on to him by contract firm Volt, after Microsoft lowered the rate it pays U.S. contracting companies by 10 percent to save costs. Palios went on to try to open communications among Microsoft contractors who were outraged by the cuts.

But late Thursday, Palios sent an e-mail to several reporters pointing to this blog post, where he explains his decision to accept the pay cut and back away from his attempt to organize contract workers, which he describes as “one of the most intense experiences of my life.”

“… After my emotions calmed down and I had more time to think I realized I had begun walking down a path that was not helping me achieve my goals in life,” Palios, 23, wrote.

Palios writes about the experience and the process he went through in quite a bit of detail, including his initial outrage at learning of the pay cuts; the Outlook meeting request he sent to 2,000 “a-” temporary workers at Microsoft organizing a protest; his optimism on Monday night when 30 people joined him on the corner and several reporters covered it.

It’s informative reading for anyone following this specific effort and anyone curious about the pressure one faces when stepping forward on a controversial and high-profile issue.

Palios picks up his own story the day after the first protest:

“The next day (Tuesday) everyone seemed to know about my little crusade. Friends, family members, colleagues and press that had not known about the protest barraged my personal phone and e-mail. I received dozens of e-mails in support of my efforts from other temporary workers and began to feel enveloped in this issue. Overnight I had gone from a software engineer to a labor organizer, and it scared the shit out of me. I was still energized and felt that all the media coverage would lead to the turnout I had originally been seeking at the next protest. But yet again we only had about 30 people at the peak of the evening and much less media in attendance. Leaving the second night of protests left me with a contemplative feeling and I think the strong emotions I had developed on Friday were starting to fade and I began to see the issue in a more objective light. …

“On Wednesday I decided that I did not want to become a labor organizer and give up my work in software. I love software, it is my passion in life and I still had a great job on an amazing team at the best software company in the world. I spent the day with my cell phone off and trying to stay out of the world of protests and labor organization so that I could devote my full attention to my job, which I was struggling to do the previous two days. I had a second meeting with Volt to discuss my concerns over the pay cut and decided to sign the contract amendment, accepting the 10% pay cut. I made this decision for a few important reasons: I really like my job and I felt that even at 10% less pay, it was worth being able to continue working on the projects I am a part of. I also think that it’s unfair to think one can be immune from a shattered economy. This was the first direct impact of the crumbling economy on me, but to think I could go on without being affected by the economy was not realistic.”

He also acknowledges that the turnout for his efforts, in person and in e-mail, “a very small portion of the thousands of temporary employees at Microsoft.” Palios writes that his goal in opening communication among the contract workers was to learn “what the majority of people wanted, not what the loudest people wanted. I believe the majority of people were unhappy with the pay cut, but willing to accept it.”

Online commenters took Palios to task when he first stepped forward and at least one person is angry with him now that he’s reconsidered.

In a comment posted to Palios’ blog, Nick wrote:

“Instead of stiring things up and then going “oops, I made a mistake, nevermind…” perhaps you should have left the stage open for someone more committed. Now this dies. No one else will be able to get anything started because they’ll always be second, even if they have the will and desire to see it through where you did not. You have caused more harm to the cause for this reason than you have done good. Fade to black…”

Palios may have been the most visible, but he was not the only one trying to organize. Another contractor started as an online forum for organizing. Meanwhile, WashTech, the labor union that might have been expected to jump in with both feet, has sent inconsistent messages on its plans for supporting the contractors.

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