Gates Faces Microsuits

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Government and antitrust lawyers are not the only ones testing Bill Gates's empire these days: Union organizers are circling. Microsoft's 260-acre campus is a cool place -- you work in jeans, play volleyball on breaks and get good pay, benefits, stock options and job security -- if you wear a blue ID badge. Those who wear orange badges (known as "A-dashes," for "agency," because of their e-mail address prefix) get no benefits, no stock options and no talk about getting on permanent staff.

To get a Microsoft job, says Mike Blain in the Communications Workers of America newsletter, "you come into Microsoft and interview with a guy. He wants to hire you, so he sends you to a temporary agency. They hire you and send you back." Now Blain, a former editor of technical material for Microsoft, is using e-mail and the Internet to help organize Microsoft workers under the CWA. Organizers have met with Microsoft employees and held meetings at the King County Labor Council. "Our labor is very much in demand," adds Blain, "and we're going to exploit that as much as we can."