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Issue: 001 CPU: Working in the Computer Industry 3/29/93
[This is the premier issue of CPU, an online publication about working in the computer industry. Subscriptions to CPU are available via the cpsr.org listserver (see the ABOUT BOX below for the how-to). We encourage comments, suggestions and articles. Thanks for the microseconds....
CPU is a moderated forum dedicated to sharing information among workers in the computer industry.
- Editorial: Welcome to CPU
Feature: Who looks out for us? The state of the industry
Discount Programming: The Global Labor Market
- First Person: Last Days at IBM
- Labor Bytes: Miscellany
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1. EDITORIAL: WELCOME TO CPU
This is an electronic journal for all of us who work in the broadly-defined "computer industry." We believe that its time to begin the dialog, to start sharing information about the work that we do, to discover the common ground among us, and to begin to articulate and advance _our_ interests in the computer industry. Within that general framework, there's lots to discuss.
What do we hope to do with CPU? We want to make sure that this digest covers all strata. There are many issues facing computer workers: compensation, job security, "contingency" work, working conditions, contracts, discrimination, and on-the-job civil liberties -- just to name a few. For this newsletter to work -- for the dialog to begin -- we need your input. We would especially like to have anecdotal stories about the work you do. Also, news stories, observed trends, and how you hold your own at work are welcome. At some point we hope to carry-out grassroots polls and surveys that reflect how working people view industry issues. The possibilities are many.
This newsletter is the product of a working group of the Berkeley Chapter of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. At some point, we expect this will become a national working group. Finally, we are indebted to the work that Jim Thomas and Gordon Meyer have done with the Computer Underground Digest as a model of online publishing.
The editorial core for this issue consists of: Michael Stack, Jim Davis, and Eric Auchard.
2. WHO LOOKS OUT FOR US? REMARKS ON THE STATE OF THE INDUSTRY
[Note: The following are the opening remarks given at a panel discussion on working in the computer industry, presented at the Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing - '92 Conference held in Berkeley on May 3, 1992. While the job loss numbers cited are dated (they have gone up), the main points still hold. - ed.]
The last year-and-a-half has been a bit of a rude awakening for people working in the computer industry. Waves of layoffs have hammered the computer industry and the list of job losses is a gruesome one: 20,000 jobs cut at IBM in 1991, another 20,000 in '92 (meaning that IBM will have lost 25 percent of its workforce since 1986). 10,000 jobs cut at Unisys, 9,000 announced at DEC. Groupe Bull in Europe: 7 of its 13 factories closed, 5,000 workers laid off. 2,000 at Hewlett Packard; 1,500 (10 percent) at Apple. 1,000 at Data General. 700 at Tandem. 20 percent of Chips & Technologies. 14 percent of Pyramid Technology. Overall, more than 90,000 jobs have been lost in the electronics industry over the past year.
The people whose jobs have been terminated are often referred to as "fat" that is "trimmed", to make a company "leaner". Or euphemisms like "downsizing", or "reducing cost structures" are used in corporate-speak to describe these changes, masking the enormous toll these actions take on the workers who lose their jobs.
Besides job security, other issues have surfaced in the computer industry workplace. Potential VDT dangers, repetitive stress injuries, and other mental and physical stress-related illnesses have appeared. The absence of civil liberties in the workplace is a longstanding problem. And traditional problems related to glass ceilings and other forms of discrimination persist.
Who is looking out for the interests of the worker in the computer industry? After all, the companies -- the employers -- have their associations, like the Semiconductor Industry Association or the Software Publishers Association. They conduct surveys among themselves as to what is the going rate for, say, an entry level programmer in the Midwest that is versed in C with a college degree and little or no work experience, in a company with 51 to 100 employees. And employers look for new tools and techniques that can cut their engineering costs. This quote was taken from the September 20, 1991 Business Week editorial titled "A Great Leap for software -- and Business": "There's already evidence that object-oriented programming can help corporate computing departments reduce the outlandish amounts of money and time spent on creating their own programs. This could spell substantial savings, since corporations now spend most of their information- technology budgets on software -- about 60% more than they spend on hardware, according to market researchers." These "savings" that they are talking about, of course, are jobs lost, since programming is a notoriously labor-intensive activity. Beyond object-oriented programming is CASE technology.
Then there's the idea of what might be called the gumby working class -- the widespread use of temporary and contract labor. Here's a quote from an Olsten Temporary Services ad:
Upturns, downturns, recessions, depressions, sudden recoveries and slumps. Companies that can't bend with change are companies that can't survive it. Olsten has the solution: flexibility. With Olsten's Flexible Workforce, you can reduce overhead and improve efficiency by utilizing people only when you need them. During slower periods, maintain a core staff of full time workers. During peak periods, supplement that staff with Olsten temporary workers...
And of course, we all hope to be part of that full-time core...
And then there's the time-honored technique of moving work to lower wage areas, like Apple locating its tech support operations in Texas, and building its new factory in Colorado; or companies shipping work to offshore labor markets, and I don't just mean manufacturing, but research, design and technical support work as well.
So again, who looks out for us?
To broaden the scope wider, we could look at the nature of work in general in the "knowledge economy". The Harvard Business Review article last summer on the "Computerless Computer Company" identifies design and integration work -- knowledge work -- as the key source of value in the contemporary economy. Computer engineers occupy a strategic position in this economy, a relatively well-paid, high-skilled strata of the workforce.
At the same time, a wide range of technologies that we help to produce are eliminating millions of low- or no-skilled jobs. The same or greater quantities of commodities are produced with fewer workers. Whole sections of the population are cast out of production, they are neither consumers or producers, they are consigned socially to homelessness, prisons, or shrinking welfare payments, or forced to work for food and shelter through modern day forms of slavery like workfare or prison labor.
Abundance coexists with incredible poverty. The "working class" is bifurcating into an employed, high-skilled strata, and an impoverished marginally employed or unemployed strata, into an information rich and information poor, knowledge rich and knowledge poor. The rage in Los Angeles and many other cities over the last few days indicates the social cost of this polarization.
There is the question of how the design workers -- the programmers, system analysts, technical writers, graphic designers etc. relate to all of the other workers who are equally necessary to the production of a chip or a computer or a software program: the clerical staff, the production workers, and yes, even the janitors.
And finally, there is the whole baggage of attitudes about the work itself, its oftentimes addictive nature, where it seems impossible to walk away from the machine, with its absorbing challenges and its tar baby puzzles, or the culture that grows up around that kind of work. Where the notion of waking up at the terminal is a sign of true dedication to the craft. At the Apple Developers Conference, they celebrate this kind of culture by providing in the lobby heavily caffeinated drinks like Jolt cola and mountain dew as a self-conscious recognition of the programming guild. We are geeks and nerds, and proud of it.
So, as the computer industry matures, questions surface that have faced other industries for decades. To name just a few of the questions that we can (and should) address: What is the nature of the work that we do? Is the nature of engineering and design work really so different from other kinds of work? How do computer industry workers resolve the conflicting, often self-imposed demands between their status as "professional" and as "worker"? In what ways is the situation of workers in the computer industry similar (or different) to other workers with regards to job security, layoffs, health and safety, and organization? Do [am I still allowed to say this word?] -- unions -- have a place in the computer industry? Again, who looks out for us?
3. DISCOUNT PROGRAMMING: WELCOME TO THE GLOBAL LABOR MARKET
Headhunters refer to the practice as body-shopping. Company personnel managers call it, in their impersonal syntax, "outsourcing," as if they were ordering so many spare parts.
However it is termed, the resort to low-cost producers overseas, which drained thousands of well-paying industrial jobs from the U.S. in the 1980s, is building momentum in the software programming field. In their continual urge to cut costs, U.S. corporations are turning off-shore to hire the growing pool of qualified programmers and engineering that exist in India, Ireland and other industrializing countries.
Economists say the shift has accelerated in the recession as companies have tried to hold down costs. The trend impacts not just the software-makers themselves but Fortune 1000 companies with their custom programming and internal software support requirements. Just how many U.S. software programmers are losing potential jobs is impossible to pin down, though labor market specialists say they are increasingly concerned. Corporate figures are sketchy and self-serving, leaving government statisticians at a loss to say just how widespread the trend has become.
Recently, though, a handful of news stories have begun to sketch one aspect of the long-suspected, though little documented practice among software companies. A loophole in U.S. immigration laws allows thousands of computer programmers and analysts to enter the United States each year on temporary business visas, Immigration and Naturalization Service officials say. The problem with these visas, according to State Department and immigration officials, is that a long-standing practice aimed at easing bureaucratic obstacles for short business trips is being abused by "job shops" to bring technicians into this country. Typically, the companies bid to provide computer services and bring in workers under the business visas or use workers they have already brought in under those visas. The visas are granted for short periods, usually up to six months, but may be extended once the worker arrives. The visas are intended for business people coming here to negotiate contracts or to attend conferences, or perhaps for highly specialized workers entering the country briefly to install equipment -- not for general computer work.
Racially-charged stories such as "Foreigners take jobs on shaky visas" appearing March 8 in the _San Francisco Examiner_ business section, paint a picture of huddled immigrants and shylock recruiters as the source of unemployment in the software industry. The stories encourage the belief that reforming the visa approval process will preserve jobs for programmers in the U.S. However, abuse of the visa program is only a limited cause of the actual job loss.
The visa controversy ignores the whole issue of low-wage off-shore development by multinational companies that is responsible for the ratcheting down of living standards at every level of the U.S. computer industry. For instance, the leading contract programming supplier, Tata Consultancy Services, with offices in both San Francisco and Sunnyvale, is a part of Tata Sons, Ltd., India's largest industrial conglomerate, the owner of steel, chemical, financial, hotel, telecommunication and power companies. Indeed, Tata, Wipro Systems, Blue Star and other Indian-owned recruiters operating in the Bay Area are outposts for India's largest computer makers. While India's internal market for computers has remained slow to develop, these companies have developed their export business consisting largely of "manpower contracts" in which Indian firms provide comparatively cheap programmers for projects overseas. India's 200,000 computing professionals include many with a strong foundation in Unix and state of the art development environments. The going monthly wage in India for a Unix programmer is less than $400 a month.
A 1989 World Bank report about the global development of the software industry noted that the days of sending subcontractors abroad to the United States are numbered due to travel costs and new technologies. "A newer approach is for a firm to send software 'diagnosticians' abroad to assess user requirements and then return home to design, program, and debug the application," writes author Robert Schware.
Quantifying the scope of contract programming for Western companies is difficult, due to the complexities of putting a price on work done overseas that is incorporated into finished products sold in the United States. One group that tries is the New Delhi- based National Association of Software and Services Companies, a trade group, which estimates that in 1992, the export of software and related computer services jumped 67 percent from the year before to $144 million (U.S.), and will rise to $350 million by 1995.
Bangalore, a Southern Indian city rapidly becoming known as that country's Silicon Valley, is one leg of an emerging strategic business triangle, beginning in the U.S. with systems specifications design, leading to India, especially Bangalore, for offshore coding, then heading to East Asia for manufacturing engineering before returning to this country as finished products. Having demonstrated the benefits of offshore programming for medium- to large-scale software development, suppliers are now examining new markets such as handling all the conversion work required when companies upgrade systems.
U.S. computer makers -- many of which have made headlines with large-scale lay-offs in the U.S. -- have set up export operations in Bangalore include IBM, Texas Instruments, Digital Equipment, Hewlett Packard, 3M, Motorola and Hughes Software Systems. Texas Instruments Inc. operates a 100 percent export-only software development center in Bangalore linked via an integrated, real- time computer and satellite communications network to Dallas and London. Products can be written and tested at a fraction of the cost in the United States. Chip designs, for example, are then transmitted to sites in the Far East where the designs are then set in silicon. World Bank economist Schware projects that local and global networks such as this one may further promote the design and development of software in newly industrializing economies.
Last year, the World Bank surveyed 150 prominent U.S. and European hardware and software manufacturers to determine what they considered the most lucrative newly industrializing countries in which to locate software development centers. Executives ranked Indian programmers as the No. 1 source for both on-site and off- shore software programming. For offshore work -- carried out for overseas clients -- the survey went on to list Ireland as second, followed by Hungary, Mexico and Singapore.
Noticeably missing from the list were several other Eastern European countries, including Russia, with a large pool of highly- educated engineers and scientists. With an economy in shambles, they are tender prey for U.S. research and development directors eager to cut costs. Though offshore programming is typically associated with routine coding tasks, displaced scientists in Eastern Europe and Russia are enlisted for an increasing number of U.S.-backed system design projects and other types of research.
Perhaps the most widely-known story -- and one commonly celebrated as a demonstration of Russian entrepreneurialism -- is the fairy tale rise of Alexei Pajitnov, creator of the addictive geometric game Tetris. In 1989, Pajitnov and a partner, Vladimir I. Pokhilko, struck a deal with Bullet-Proof Software, a game company in Redmond, Washington. The pair hired a team of 15 scientists in Moscow and set to work on a new project that would automatically generate animated life-forms. Pokhilko is quoted in _Scientific American's_ July, 1992 issue as saying that, "Some people took the job just to survive."
In two other widely-reported examples, Sun Microsystems opened a software design center in Moscow while Borland International made use of a Hungarian development team to create the initial versions of Quattro (now known as QuattroPro), the company's spreadsheet application. Sun's involvement is the most elaborate. In March, 1992 Sun set up what is known as the Moscow Center of SPARC Technology, contracting for basic research with supercomputer designer Boris Babaian, described as the "Seymour Cray of the Russian computer industry." Two other teams in St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk have been hired to work on the Sparcompiler FORTRAN and the Sparcompiler Pascal products sold by SunPro, the software development arm of Sun. The _New York Times_ noted that the Russian programmers would be paid "bargain-basement wages ... of a little more than their current salary of a few hundred dollars a year in American dollars." "We think this can be a precedent for other research-and-development-intensive companies," said Scott McNealy, president, CEO and chairman of Sun Microsystems.
U.S. companies don't necessarily need to go overseas themselves to access low-wage Russian and Eastern European skills. Labor brokers such as Michael DeLyon, president of Intercontinental Software in Palo Alto, match U.S. companies in need of software assistance with seasoned programmers in Eastern Europe. He claims to have as many as 600 software programmers working for him out of offices in Moscow, Sofia and Prague. "We work with only the top 1 percent of the programming population," he told _CPU_ recently.
"They offer awesome scientific skills at a fraction of the cost," says DeLyon, a Bulgarian native trained in a Russian engineering polytechnic and a graduate of Stanford Business school. His employees are conversant with C++, Windows and Unix and work for him on an as-needed basis. "We're the leader in developing relations with Eastern Europe and Russia," he asserts. "We started small but now we are working with the biggest companies -- household names," he says. "They're inherently more conservative organizations so I won't mention names." He also refuses to disclose the company's finances. The emigre entrepreneur did say, however, that he "very consciously" models his business on the success of Indian-owned body shops in Silicon Valley.
The globalization of software development ought to be good for everybody, DeLyon maintains. "Good for the companies because they get inexpensive talent; good for programmers because they get to work on exciting projects; good for my company because I can do both good and well," he summarizes. Most of the work he contracts for in Silicon Valley is performed in Eastern Europe. Only occasionally does he import programmers. He says he then hires project managers from among the large number of Russian immigrants living in the Bay Area to oversee the visiting programmers.
The attractions for U.S. companies to off-shore developers varies from country to country. Since the 1970s, U.S. computer companies have gravitated to the Republic of Ireland with the lures of cheap labor, a well-educated work force, proximity to European markets and generous tax inducements. Electronic manufacturers led by computer makers contribute a significant chunk of Ireland's exports. Oracle, Motorola, Ericcson, Amdahl and Electronic Data Systems lead a posse of international employers that develop software for export from Ireland. Software sales account for 10 percent of Irish exports, or $1.5 billion a year, according to Irish Trade Ministry figures. The country's salary structure is far lower than in the United States. "Ireland is fast becoming the gateway to Europe for U.S. software developers," noted a Feb. 1992 _MacWeek_ article. Yet companies are also increasingly taking on original design projects as opposed to just assembling systems designed in the United States.
Ireland's largest computer employer, Digital Equipment Corporation was once credited with contributing several percentage points to the country's gross national product -- until the company announced a devastating layoff one month ago. DEC officials said they would dump 780 manufacturing employees in Galway, western Ireland, but assigned a priority to keeping more than 350 employees engaged in software development.
Even as DEC was leaving, Sun announced plans to establish a European software center in Dublin, where it "will manage development and localization of its Solaris software environment." The company press release quoted SunSoft President Edward Zander saying that, "Ireland, with its large pool of engineering and software talent, is the ideal location for us to manage software development to meet the needs of the European Unix market."
In the computer field, the globalization of labor markets has meant the steady diminution of whole employment categories within U.S. borders. First to be relocated were assembly jobs, then more recently, data entry, technical support functions and other "back office" jobs. The logic that renders an ever-increasing number of job categories as expendable now threatens the creative intellectual tasks once considered the nearly exclusive preserve of American programmers. The shift of software development overseas calls into question President Clinton's promise to create more american "high-wage, high-quality jobs of the future," a useful campaign slogan that may become the political epitaph of his administration.
4. FIRST PERSON: LAST DAYS AT IBM by Bill Tucker
[Bill Tucker, 55, worked 26 years for IBM as a systems engineer performing technical marketing services to the company's overseas subsidiaries. Tucker joined IBM in 1963 in The Netherlands, moved to Poughkeepsie, N.Y. and then Palo Alto, before retiring in 1990. Currently, he is pursuing a masters of liberal arts degree at Stanford University and assisting in the publication of the correspondence of Martin Luther King, Jr. Tucker is a member of the Palo Alto chapter of CPSR.]
For most of its existence, IBM has been known as a company that treated employees well. Legend says that no one has ever been laid off, even during what's been known up to now as the Great Depression. There was even a mantra, "Respect for the Individual." Lower level managers frequently forgot the words, but many upper level managers took it seriously. One of its manifestations was IBM's open door policy, which meant that if an employee was dissatisfied with an answer from a manager at one level, she or he could take the issue up the hierarchy, all the way to the top. The issue involved was often an employee grievance. If a complaint was serious and could be documented, and the employee was willing to make enough enemies, a manager could usually be found at some level who was willing to redress it. On the other hand, the knowledge that after it was all over you would probably have to find a new career path discouraged many people from pursuing legitimate grievances. Nevertheless, this policy and others like it contributed substantially to employee morale and self-respect.
These policies were established by IBM's founder, T. J. Watson, who is said to have regarded employees as the company's most valuable resource. During his tenure, and that of his son, T. J. Watson, Jr., a huge intangible asset was created for IBM, in the form of employee good will. Good management of this asset turned a small manufacturer of industrial clocks into a huge, highly successful and diversified company.
Then, at some point, IBM management started to trade on and even liquidate that good-will asset rather than nurture it. Employees began to notice this change in attitude as long ago as 1970. However, IBM only acknowledged what was going on publicly in 1986. In that year, IBM management told the world that its business outlook did not look good and that the solution was to reduce the number of employees. What had been regarded as Assets in the Watson era were moved to the Liabilities side of the Balance Sheet by the new management.
The main feature of the 1986 announcement was a plan whereby bonuses would be given for early retirement. As this pogrom, that is, program, was being implemented, it became clear that it wasn't to be a complete cure. If reducing the workforce was the way to solve IBM's emerging difficulties, even greater cut-backs would be necessary. Most IBM'ers expected a second plan to follow closely on the heels of the first. However, IBM management waited three years to introduce the new program. They waited much too long, because by 1989 the company was in deep trouble. Since then, IBM has seemingly instituted a permanent program for shrinking the workforce. No one, in the company or out, has any idea where it will end.
Part of the 1989 plan was the introduction of Social Darwinism as a personnel policy. Groups of 100 or so employees are put onto lists, which are ranked according to each employee's perceived relative contribution to company welfare. People are told where they are on the list. Those at the top are eligible for promotion; those at the bottom are candidates for termination. A management committee maintains the list. Where IBM formerly had 100 people working enthusiastically toward a common goal, it now has 100 employees in dog-eat-dog competition with each other.
Below are two examples of the experience of people leaving IBM. The first is based on an article that appeared in the _New York Times_, The second is about a woman friend on the east coast who does not wish to be identified.
Webster Brown's story appeared in the business section of the _Times_ on March 22, 1992. After more than twenty years with IBM, Brown, an engineer, was transferred to a job for which he was ill-prepared. He soon found himself at the bottom of the local ranking list, or as he puts it, at the wrong end of the curve. However, he was old enough that he could take an early retirement offer rather than be terminated. He notes that, "IBM has initiated a psychological reign of terror over employees."
The woman's story began with some helpful advice from her then manager. He said that if she wanted to advance professionally, she should try to broaden the range of her work experience. After a year of searching and interviewing, she found a job that looked like it would provide the necessary experience. Its only disadvantage was that it added an hour to her daily commute. However, six months into the new job, the new manager told her that the job was being eliminated. He said that she shouldn't worry too much about this, though, because IBM would find her another similar job, probably in the same geographical area. At the time, she thought she was being treated unfairly, but she didn't protest. For one thing, even though she was the newest person in the department, she thought she was performing better than most of the others. She suspected that the real reasons that her job was being eliminated were that she was a woman and that she had the least seniority.
After about a month, her latest manager told her that IBM had found her a new job, but that it was 1,000 miles away. Nobody could tell her much about the job. Finally, IBM said that she had to either accept the job or leave IBM. In the latter case, she would get one week's pay for each year of service. She decided to leave. She reasoned that with IBM shrinking everywhere, any job available in the other location was going to be one that nobody else wanted. This could be because the manager there had a psychological problem or because it was simply an impossible job. Typical among the latter are customer-service jobs for hopeless products. In these, you spend your entire day dealing with customers who are justifiably angry and impossible to satisfy. In any case, it was likely to be a job that was difficult to perform well in, so she would probably soon find herself at the bottom of the local ranking list. This could result in termination without any severance pay, into an unfamiliar and small local job market.
So she started sending out resumes and before long she had two job offers. Then, three days before she planned to tell IBM that she was leaving, her manager announced that IBM had changed its mind and she could keep her current job! She was dumbfounded, to the surprise of her manager, who had expected her to jump at this opportunity. Three days later she told IBM that she wanted to leave and wanted the severance pay, and the company agreed to this. She figured that the offer to stay was probably only a temporary reprieve, and that in the next cutback she would be the first one asked to leave for the same reasons as before. Moreover, the severance pay and the two job offers might not be there next time. She was right about the reprieve; since she left half the jobs in the group have been eliminated.
IBM workforce cutbacks are conducted in manner that can only be compared to that of a Napoleonic army in chaotic retreat. No two managers or personnel administrators have the same understanding of any policy. The final insult comes in the reams of obscure text, designed by IBM's lawyers, which routinely closes with the advice that you should consult your own lawyer if this confuses you. The only thing your own lawyer can tell you about this is that a gang of Yale-educated criminals has put together a masterpiece of intimidation, carefully designed to maximize IBM's advantage over you.
A notable aspect of IBM's problems over the last several years is the extent to which blame is laid at the feet of the employees rather than management. It's either because we spend too much time hanging around the water cooler or simply "...because we are too menny" (Father Time, in Thomas Hardy's _Jude the Obscure_). Until the recent announcement of John Aker's long overdue departure, there has been no hint that 15 years of disastrous management just might be the problem instead. Of course, the huge overpaid committee at the top could hardly admit this, because that would call into question the justification for their grossly high compensation packages.
5. LABOR BYTES
HIGH TECH WAGES ARE DROPPING: _Computerworld_'s sixth annual salary survey, reported in the _San Francisco Chronicle_ last fall, notes that computer and Information Systems [IS] wages are leveling off and even declining, after years of steady growth. And as in other industries, women's IS salaries are lower than men's in most categories, especially in management. Consulting fees are flat as well, and may even go down according to the Independent Computer Consultants Association (ICCA) survey. "There seems to be no economic news that indicate that they go anywhere but down," says ICCA head Raj Khera in the Maryland-based _Warfield's Business Record_. "Because so many computer professionals have been laid off lately, and because consulting work seems a natural way for them to earn income between jobs, the competition for consulting work has stiffened, and in turn depressed fees." [ICCA has a SIG forum up on Compuserve or call 1 800 GET-ICCA].
POISON CHIPS: "Chip Firms Won't Ban Suspect Chemicals" was the headline in the _SF Chronicle_ last fall, in the wake of an IBM study on chemicals in semiconductor manufacturing. "But at least two companies - INTEL Corp. of Santa Clara... and ADVANCED MICRO DEVICES... are offering employees the right to transfer jobs if they feel that they will be endangered by touching or breathing the chemicals in the chip-manufacturing process". Among 30 women who became pregnant, 10 suffered miscarriages the study determined. Reports from a more comprehensive study by the University of California at Davis for the Semiconductor Industry Association, released in December, echoed the IBM study findings. The SIA report shows a 20% to 40% higher chance of miscarriage among women workers in chip fab. The _San Jose Mercury News_ quotes one industry executive, "We'll do what we can to take any actions that are warranted to protect workers." Right.
VERSATRONEX WORKERS SAY UNION, COMPANY SHUTS DOWN: Workers at Sunnyvale-based VERSATRONEX, a contract circuit board assembler, walked out on strike back in October over low-pay, no benefits and hazardous working conditions. Regarded as the first strike at an electronics firm in Silicon Valley ever, the workers returned after the NLRB filed a formal complaint against the company. After it became clear that the workers were going to pursue official union representation (by the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, aka UE), the company announced it was shutting down. It closed its doors on January 29, putting about 130 workers onto the street.
ELSEWHERE IN THE INDUSTRY: Ah, IBM. What can you say about a company that loses $21 billion in market value in one year? Anyway, they made it official: 1993 cutbacks will include the computer giant's first layoffs in half a century, reports the _Wall Street Journal_. IBM had always prided themselves on their "no lay-offs" policy -- they had relied on other terms and tactics for achieving the same end. IBM employed 301,542 world-wide on Dec. 31st, 1992, down from 406,000 in 1985. In the wake of IBM's implosion, SUPERCOMPUTER SYSTEMS is closing doors, and laying off 320 (IBM was funding the firm, and withdrew its support). Money- losing PRODIGY, the IBM and SEARS joint venture (why does that not inspire confidence?) is rumored to be in trouble, with cuts in its workforce predicted. DIGITAL EQUIPMENT laid off 6,000 in the last quarter of 1992. CYPRESS SEMICONDUCTOR is closing its last Silicon Valley plant, shifting work to cheaper labor markets, and laying off 400 -- this is especially noteworthy because president T. J. Rodgers, the outspoken libertarian gadfly, made such a big deal about staying competitive in Silicon Valley. BORLAND dumped 350 people, 15% of their workforce. EVEREX declared bankruptcy last month, and 200 more workers were dumped -- the company has laid off 900 workers since last June. Meanwhile, the approximately 750 remaining EVEREX employees found out that the company dropped its health insurance plan, without telling them. LOTUS closed its disk duplication and shrink wrap plant in Puerto Rico, laying off 100 -- it says site licenses and electronic distribution have dramatically changed software distribution. The plant was all of seven years old.
THE FUTURE'S SO BRIGHT...: "Despite some encouraging signs that the economy is picking up, Silicon Valley companies continue to slash their workforces" reports the San Jose-based _Business Journal_. Valley companies laid off, or said they would lay off, or fired or offered early retirement to more than 6,300 employees in the fourth quarter, according to a survey by the _California Job Journal_ and additional research by the _Business Journal_. An employment analyst with the state said he doesn't expect to see the valley's employment picture brighten until the end of 1993. Solid figures are hard to come by, notes Michele McCormick, a spokeswoman for the _Job Journal_, because 80 percent of California's workers are employed by small private businesses that don't announce layoffs.
AND WORKERS RESPOND: Older workers (well, not so old -- some are as young as 40) angry about layoffs and reassignments are filing more age-bias suits. Ex-UNISYS employees are suing over lost health benefits resulting from the company's decision to stop providing the benefit to retirees. Former KODAK workers have sued both DEC and KODAK, saying they lost benefits and job security when KODAK "spun off" the workers to a new subsidiary. And BOEING engineers and technical workers went on strike for one day in January.
[See a news story that belongs in CPU? Send it in!]
"We should be more skeptical about the promises of the computer mystics. They work like dogs; chances are, if they have their way so will the rest of us." -- Bob Black
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