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Microsoft Bug Testers Unionized. Then They Were Dismissed

The subcontracted workers were challenging their termination, but they couldn’t hold out.

Philippe Boucher rides a public-transit bus on Feb. 10, 2015, on the way to work as a French translator at a company that contracts services to Microsoft. He’s part of a movement of temporary workers trying to gain better benefits and working conditions.

Philippe Boucher rides a public-transit bus on Feb. 10, 2015, on the way to work as a French translator at a company that contracts services to Microsoft. He’s part of a movement of temporary workers trying to gain better benefits and working conditions.

Photographer: John Lok/Getty Images

Silicon Valley’s contract labor has become a hot political topic, as a slew of potential Democratic presidential candidates sponsor legislation that could force companies to negotiate with more workers they claim not to employ. In California, Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, and a half-dozen other companies are lobbying to defang a court ruling that could make it difficult to avoid reclassifying such workers as employees. And in Washington, the Republican-dominated National Labor Relations Board has made moves to undo an Obama-era precedent that could make big employers legally liable for contract workers even if they have only indirect control over them.

The GOP takeover in Washington is one reason the Temporary Workers of America, a union of bug testers for Microsoft Corp., gave up on what had been, for people in the software world, an almost unheard of unionization victory, says the group’s founder, Philippe Boucher. The ­38-person union successfully organized in 2014, winning the right to negotiate with temp agency Lionbridge Technologies Inc., which provides marketing, testing, and language services. Within a few years, however, Lionbridge had eliminated all their jobs, and the workers say a union-busting complaint they filed in December 2016 with the NLRB against Microsoft dragged on too long. They agreed to settle this spring to get financial relief.