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HP Contract Workers Sue For Recognition 603

Posted by Zonk
from the spurious-assertion dept.
manganese4 writes "The Idaho Statesman is carrying the story of 33 local Boise HP contract workers suing HP. They claim that they were expected to perform at the same level of expectations as HP workers and thus should be given the rights and privileges of HP workers. HP claims the suit is without merit." From the article: "The suit seeks to represent 3,000 workers in Boise and elsewhere in the company and could involve as much as $300 million, according to the complaint."
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HP Contract Workers Sue For Recognition

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  • by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedyNO@SPAMtpno-co.org> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:24PM (#12013910) Homepage
    I never understood how these things work: Do some lawyers wake up in the morning and decide, "Hey! I need a new pool. Hmmmm, I think I sue HP today. Now, let's find a reason.".

    That's really how it looks, and it would make me feel slimy to take part in something like that.

    not that HP doesn't deserve, but that's not my point.
    • by velo_mike (666386) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:33PM (#12014001)
      I never understood how these things work: Do some lawyers wake up in the morning and decide, "Hey! I need a new pool. Hmmmm, I think I sue HP today. Now, let's find a reason.".

      Yes, actually there are some who do that. It's the same at the local level, where some lawyers pay interns to stand at the local police station photocopying accident forms.

      not that HP doesn't deserve, but that's not my point.

      So this person voluntarily entered into a contract with HP (well, with a subcontractor of HP), with the understanding that she would be paid X dollars in exchange for Y hours work, with no additional compensation expected on either side. Fast forward a couple years and now we're supposed to let her renegotiate the contract BACKDATED TO THE START because she's changed her mind? Screw that, it's called a learning experience, next time take a FT job, not a contract.

      • by Qzukk (229616) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:03PM (#12014394) Journal
        So this person voluntarily entered into a contract with HP (well, with a subcontractor of HP), with the understanding that she would be paid X dollars in exchange for Y hours work, with no additional compensation expected on either side. Fast forward a couple years and now we're supposed to let her renegotiate the contract BACKDATED TO THE START because she's changed her mind? Screw that, it's called a learning experience, next time take a FT job, not a contract.

        So you've seen the contract and it says that Loser X will work N hours for $P pay? And Loser X worked N hours for $P pay? If thats true, then the suit really is baseless. But take a look at the behavior of the electronics industry with respect to its contractors recently: We have EA, for example, who worked people for 60-80+ hours a week, which was by contract (expected overtime), then at the end of the project said, "Yeah, I know we usually let you comp all that overtime after a project is done, but I think we'll just take our overtime back this time and not give you any time off or any extra pay, and assign you to new projects". Hardly "fair" "legal" or "by the contract" by any stretch of the imagination.

        So the way I see it, there MIGHT be merit to the case. They could be working these contract workers overtime with no overtime pay or comp time, they could be assigning them jobs above and beyond their contractual role, if they're hourly they could be forcing them to "touch up" their time sheets, or any number of other abusive things. They may have been told the positions were contract-to-hire. Work for us 3 months and we'll hire you as soon as possible (4 years ago). The subcontractor may have misrepresented themselves as HP, rather than as a subcontractor. They may have gone for years unwilling to rock the boat thanks to the shitty economy.

        Or it might just be a bunch of whiny brats who decided they wanted to be FTE's after all. They got themselves a fancy lawyer and figured that what they couldn't get from the HR department they'd take from the company's hide.

        Either way, we'll see the truth when it comes out in the courts.
      • by Macadamizer (194404) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:22PM (#12014656)
        So this person voluntarily entered into a contract with HP (well, with a subcontractor of HP), with the understanding that she would be paid X dollars in exchange for Y hours work, with no additional compensation expected on either side. Fast forward a couple years and now we're supposed to let her renegotiate the contract BACKDATED TO THE START because she's changed her mind?

        But a contract isn't valid if it requires a law to be broken. And in all states in the U.S., you can't just call someone a contractor and have that be the end of it -- every state has there own checklist of what is a contractor and what isn't. Just because you have someone sign a contract saying they are a "contractor" doesn't mean that contract is valid -- they actually have to meet the test to be a contractor.

        It's like the whole exempt versus non-exempt worker -- employers like to classify workers as exempt, so they don't have to pay them overtime. But the laws don't let the employer decide who gets overtime and who doesn't -- there are a set of rules that define what the duties of an exmpt employee are, and if an employee doesn't meet that test, then classifying them as exempt is against the law, and any contract specifying otherwise is void.

        Now, who knows if these contractors who are suing meet the Idaho definition of contractor or not -- but the whole idea that a contract is the be-all-end-all is incorrect.
    • Where the slime is (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:49PM (#12014210) Homepage Journal
      A lot of lawsuits actually do start that way. But any contractor will tell you these people have a legitimate beef.

      There are legitimate reasons to use contractors. Like when you temporarily need a few extra people at crunch time. Or there's a specialized task that it makes sense to outsource.

      But a lot of contractors are doing jobs that are really part of the permanent organizational structure, often working side by side with permanent employees who do the same work. Technically, they're temporary people who work for themselves or for a "job shop". But their contracts are often extended for years, and the person who supervises them and decides they ongoing future works for the company, not the job shop.

      I've never quite understood why companies "hire" so many non-employees. My best guess is that inept managers can't figure out how to justify the head count they need to get the job done, but somehow manage to get "temporary" funding for contractors.

      Being that kind of long-term contractor can be maddening. There may be campus facilities, like a gym, that you're not allowed to use. There will certainly be bennies -- matched 401Ks, stock options, tuition reimbursements -- that you won't be eligible for. And then there are the intangibles...

      I once worked for a year as a contractor helping clean up a doc set. (The guy who replaced me in this "temporary" job is still there -- 6 years later!) My work helped earn my writing team an award for "improved documentation." Some of the improvements cited were done at my initiative. But because I was a contractor, I wasn't even invited to the ceremony.

      A lawyer who helps defend people against this kind of abuse is not "slimy". He's simply helping people defend their rights.

      • by symbolic (11752) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:12PM (#12014522)
        I've never quite understood why companies "hire" so many non-employees.

        It's right there in the article - if they're non-employees, the company saves a bundle by not having to pay them benefits, pensions, vacation time, etc. But here's the irony - many contractors were willing to put up with this, because as contractors, they had more freedom. The problem is that these companies hire "contractors," and treat them like regular employees. Now they lose the both the freedom, AND the benefits/perks- the company effectively gets a lot more work for a lot less money.
      • 4 words (Score:5, Insightful)

        by serutan (259622) <snoopdoug@gCHICAGOeekazon.com minus city> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:33PM (#12014783) Homepage
        Apply for a job.

        A lot of people are afraid to be contractors, because of a mythical notion called "job security." They think that if the economy suddenly collapses their company will protect them while contractors starve. These people don't get out enough.

        If you do a little arithmetic you will find that the amount you get paid over an FTE employee far exceeds the dollar value of the gym, paid vacation, insurance etc. If that's not the case you are with the wrong agency. Forget the award ceremony and take yourself out to dinner every time you deposit a paycheck. By being a contractor you are beating the system. Don't let the system convince you otherwise.
        • Re:4 words (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Procyon101 (61366) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:47PM (#12014921) Journal
          Totally. I have been primarily contract through the dotcom boom and bust and am presently. I have had a couple permanent positions throughout that time also. The differences?

          1) I get paid more to be a contractor.
          2) I get fewer benefits
          3) I make enough in cash to go out and buy those same benefits and still ahve more money.
          4) I just don't deal with politics. When stuff hits the fan I go to my dumb guns and say "huh? I'm just a contractor."
          5) I have a much more varied and interesting job variety.
          6) I have just as much job security as permanent. Probably moreso because my network being a contractor is much wider and I can jump jobs at the drop of a hat.
          7) I can pretty much take time off whenever I want... I just finish off a project and don't get another for a bit. This has allowed me to do outside projects, take extended vacations and even start a side company.

          Contracting has been very good to me. Sure, I'm treated pretty much just like an employee at my host company, and I prefer it that way... until the politics start, then I make it very clear I don't work there.
    • by pizzaman100 (588500) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @04:05PM (#12015141) Journal
      I never understood how these things work: Do some lawyers wake up in the morning and decide, "Hey! I need a new pool. Hmmmm, I think I sue HP today. Now, let's find a reason.".

      Actually, this particular lawyer [ridenbaugh.com] is well known and respected in the state. He is a former Idaho Supreme court member, and also was a Democrat candidate for governor in '98.

  • Contract (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Contract! That should be enough information right there.

    This is nothing new. It seems that at some point or another, all contractors suddenly feel that they are no longer contractors but rather employees. With entitlement no less.

    The case is without merit but, not without precedence.
    • Re:Contract (Score:3, Interesting)

      Certainly the Inland Revenue Department in the UK feels that way...

      They don't like employers pretending people are "contractors" to avoid tax.

    • Yeah there should be an obvious difference. One is paid BY THE HOUR. The other is salaried. That should be established on the first day of work.

    • Not quite (Score:5, Informative)

      by temojen (678985) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:48PM (#12014189) Journal

      Around here (BC, Canada) an employee is one who

      1. works on an employers site,
      2. uses the employer's tools,
      3. works hours set by the employer, and
      4. is supervised by other employees of the employer,
      5. or any combination of 2 or 3 of the above.

      For labour relations and tax reasons some employers try to put employees on the books as consultants or contractors, but their financial auditors (it's not GAAP [smartpros.com]), revenue canada auditors (it may be tax evasion), and the labour relations board smack them down pretty fast.

      (std disclaimer: IANAL, IANAA, if you need a lawyer or accountant, get a real one)

    • These contractors are claiming that the IRS would consider them employees of HP so they are employees.

      Well, guess what. Even if they get the IRS to reclassify them as employees, all these "employees" are entitled to is to have HP withhold their income taxes for them. That is the purpose of the guidelines. To determine HP's tax liability. For more information, please see IRS Form SS-8: Determination of Worker Status for Purposes of Federal Employment Taxes and Income Tax Withholding [irs.gov]. In it, you will fin

  • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:24PM (#12013926)
    Jennifer Miller of Nampa is one of the plaintiffs. Miller said she was employed by HP in Boise from 1989 to 1995, when she took a severance package and left the company. She returned later in 1995 as a contract worker and worked at HP until March 9. Part of the time she was a contract employee through Veritest and Manpower Professional. Her jobs included testing software for HP printers.

    Umm, I have never heard of anything like this before. Temp agencies hire employees, charge the companies their employees work at, and then pay (and give benefits if applicable) to their employees from that.

    Since when are you owed money/benefits from a company you really don't directly work for?
    • I totally agree--- this exact kind of lawsuit against MS is what lead to their contract employees being treated ACTUALLY like second class citizens to make sure they weren't given the "same expectations as regular employees"

    • ...she took a severance package and left the company. She returned later [the same year] as a contract worker.

      Did she return to the same job? If so, might she have a case? The article makes it seem that she was laid off, then rehired into substantially the same position as a contractor.

    • That's what I was thinking. Aren't these people an employee of Manpower or some other company? Not HP.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:38PM (#12014054)
      As the IRS and Microsoft worked out, a "temp" employee working for some period of time, like over 5 years, eventually crosses that gray fuzzy line and actually isn't a temp employee anymore.

      The same doom and gloom was predicted for Microsoft before that permatemp lawsuit was won by the permatemps.

      I don't know, though, who's won the war.

      It's nice as a contractor, when things at the company are very chaotic, knowing you're just a contractor and your boat doesn't really sink or swim with the fortunes of the company for a variety of reasons. Sure, you might be out of a gig, but it's just a gig. There will be others.
    • by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:38PM (#12014065) Homepage
      Umm, I have never heard of anything like this before. Temp agencies hire employees, charge the companies their employees work at, and then pay (and give benefits if applicable) to their employees from that.

      Since when are you owed money/benefits from a company you really don't directly work for?

      In this case, the contractors are claiming that for all intents-and-purposes, they functioned more like actual employeed than a contractor. They're use IRS defintions to back their case.

      If the company can have you classed as a contractor, they save mondo money on not paying you benefits. They're saying they did the same work in the same office and effectively get discriminated against.

      As I recall, a similar situation used to (does?) exist at Microsoft -- people could stay as contractors for years in the same position. They got none of the perks and benefits, and were effectively second-class citizens (or so I've heard, I've never even been to Washington State).

      These people are trying to get themselves recognized as being actual employees, or at least equivelant.

      • by garcia (6573) * on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:45PM (#12014155)
        If the company can have you classed as a contractor, they save mondo money on not paying you benefits. They're saying they did the same work in the same office and effectively get discriminated against.

        If you work through Manpower (as the employee the article listed) you do NOT work for HP and regardless of what work you do there you are NOT owed benefits/compensation from them.

        You work for Manpower and should be arguing with THEM for better pay and benefits more in line with your current working conditions.
        • by Mr. McGibby (41471) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:54PM (#12014260) Homepage Journal
          You need to learn actually read some tax law since you obviously don't know what you're talking about. The IRS doesn't allow companies to get around actually hiring people by calling them contractors. If someone looks, acts, and is managed like an employee then they MUST become such. That is the LAW. Read it sometime.
          • The contractors want HP benefits and are trying to get them through the tax law. This is not likely to work, since tax law, employment law, and benefits law are all different.

            Check out Capital Cities/ABC, Inc. v. Ratcliff, 141 F.3d 1405, 1409-10 (10th Cir. 1998). After a bunch of news carriers were reclassified by the IRS as common law employees, they sued to be included in the company's retirement plan. The carriers got their asses handed to them by the Tenth Circuit Court, however, because they signe

      • by MadMorf (118601) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:54PM (#12014268) Homepage Journal
        As I recall, a similar situation used to (does?) exist at Microsoft -- people could stay as contractors for years in the same position. They got none of the perks and benefits, and were effectively second-class citizens (or so I've heard, I've never even been to Washington State).

        All true.

        The result is that contractors at Micorsoft NOW can only work for 12 months and then are required to leave the contract for 100 days, before they can be rehired to work on the contract for another 12 months.

        There are a whole bunch of contractors working that way at Microsoft's support center in Charlotte, NC.

        One of my current co-workers has been through the cycle twice and is going back again in May.

      • Actually, I think more companies bend those IRS definitions of "contractors" than you might realize.

        A big offender? Most courier/delivery services. They often use only "contractors" to run all their deliveries - even though at first glance, this might seem impossible. (If the people are driving cars you own, and taking deliveries "on call" for you, then that would seem to immediately make them your "employees" rather than "contractors".)

        To comply with the IRS rules of "contractors" though, they do such
      • by soft_guy (534437) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:18PM (#12014601)
        I worked there as a contractor. I did not like being treated the way I was treated as a non-employee. There were certain meeting you couldn't go to, etc. (usually ceremonies, etc. - not secret information of any kind).

        Anyway, I left because I didn't like it. They were real pissed when I left too. They tried to guilt me into staying by saying "But you signed a contract saying you will work here!". Of course the first paragraph of the contract said that I could leave anytime and they could fire me anytime. These idiots always want to have it both ways. Fuck em - I can find work elsewhere.

      • Having worked at Microsoft as a contractor I never felt like I was a second class citizen.

        Also, because of a lawsuit similar to the one we're discussing right now contractors are only allowed to work for 360 days at MS. Then they have a MANDATORY 90 day break from work at MS. Of course you can always go get another job somewhere else.

        Basically in my view... I feel like the contractors who have sued in the past have screwed ME.

        They signed up for a contract, and they were treated like part of the team (a b
  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:26PM (#12013937)
    "The suit seeks to represent 3,000 workers in Boise and elsewhere in the company and could involve as much as $300 million, according to the complaint." "

    The protest will die down as soon as the contractors are offered HP's "4 30-lbs sacks of potatoes" bonus offered to the regular Idaho employees as a holiday bonus.

  • by mlmurray (12934) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:26PM (#12013941)
    They claim that they were expected to perform at the same level of expectations as HP workers and thus should be given the rights and privileges of HP workers.
    No. They should be given the rights and privileges that were spelled out in the contract.
    • No (Score:3, Informative)

      by geekoid (135745)
      The guidline for what constitutes a 'contract' employee is determined by state laws. Useally very specifically.
      The idea of 'contract' employee is you work to create a very spific thing, by a specific date.
      You can:
      1) Work where you want
      2) When you want
      3) wearing what you want.
      4) the ability to hire your own employees to do the job

      If you get responsibilities beyond that, your an employee
      If you are told to work specific time, your an employee
      If you have to adhear to a dress code, your an employee.

      As always s
      • Re:No (Score:4, Informative)

        by Pionar (620916) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:12PM (#12014519)
        That's retardulous. That's not the case at all. You are a contract worker (aka independent contractor) when you sign a contract saying so. It has nothing to do with responsibilities or deadlines.

        And the determination of what is an employee is set by the federal government, including IRS guidelines, labor guidelines, tax code, and congressional laws. State laws may provide certain benefit to non-employees, but that doesn't make them an employee.

        When you sign a contract, you are agreeing that you will do X amount of work (hours, units, a project) for Y amount of money (whether flat or per hour). Often, other responsibilities such as work hours are specified in the contract, or there's a clause stating that the employer will decide those terms.

        As a contract worker, you are not entitled to any benefits whatsoever. Under some cicumstances, the "employer" doesn't pay payroll taxes, and you are responsible for all taxes, because you are effectively self-employed. My father got swindled into this as a dealer rep for an auto auction in the 80s. The owner of that auction eventually went to prison for tax evasion and ghost employment (big surprise).

        And yes, if you plan on working as a contract worker, get an attorney to look over the contract. It'll cost you some (it cost my former roommate $150), but is well worth it. Not just any attorney, though, an employment attorney.

        IT people need to read about how law affects them. I've always found that Nolo [nolo.com] has great books for us non-lawyers. Those in IT would be most interested in this book [nolo.com], which provides guidance on these issues for both employers and employees.
    • by SpecBear (769433) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:04PM (#12014422)
      You can draw up whatever kind of contract you want, but there will always be two issues to deal with:

      1) No matter how the company defines "contractor," the IRS has it's own guidelines determining who is or isn't a contractor.

      2) If your employer ever makes demands beyond what's outlined in the contract, then there's a rather severe power imbalance when it comes to negotiations.

      A friend of mine ran into this problem. She was a contractor, and as her contract was approaching time for renewal, her employer began to demand that she be in the office during certain hours rather than working from home. Since her work didn't require her to be in the office, this was clearly illegal but the message was was quite clear: do this, or your contract doesn't get renewed. With contractors, a company can keep doing this until it finds someone willing to play ball.

      I think lawsuits like this are a good thing because they provide some credible deterrent for this kind of behavior. Without the threat of such lawsuits, there's no serious disincentive against abusing the rules surrounding independent contractors, and the rules become effectively worthless.

  • Contract workers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mingot (665080) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:27PM (#12013944)
    I'm pulling for these guys. Companies tend to have the nasty habit of using what they call contractors to get out of paying taxes and benifits that they really should be. If you go to the IRS website and look up the rules which are used to determine whether someone is an employee or contractor it's clear that rules are being broken.
    • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:30PM (#12013971)
      "Companies tend to have the nasty habit of using what they call contractors to get out of paying taxes and benifits that they really should be"

      Is this any surprise? If the government makes you pay a higher tax for full-time employees, then this discourages hiring full-time employees. The same with imposition of benefits for such employees: it is the government providing a disincentive for hiring the kind of employees that would get these benefits.

      Is it any surprise that the companies are responding to economic pressure from the government NOT to hire regular full-time workers?

  • Read the contract? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chiapetofborg (726868) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:27PM (#12013945) Homepage
    I've had my share of contract and full-time work, and I guess I'm kinda weird, because I actually read my contract. If it doesn't say I get benefits, I don't expect benefits, If it says I will, I expect benefits. Am I going to be getting a 1099 or a W2 at the end of the year? Because one is typical of a contract employee and the other is a regular employee. Regular employees typically get benefits, and the company pays the taxes. Contract employees pay their own taxes and benefits.
  • This is dumb (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Holi (250190) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:27PM (#12013946)
    I am sorry but I have done contract work for over 10 years and this pisses me off. They may work at HP but they work for either their contract agency or for themselves. I didn't sue Pixar when I worked there because they decided not to put contractors in the credits. I don't expect the company I am working at to provide me with health benefits and stock options, I should get those through the agency who pays me.
  • contracting at Apple (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eric Smith (4379) * <[eric] [at] [brouhaha.com]> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:28PM (#12013952) Homepage Journal
    When I started a contract job at Apple Computer in the late 1980s, they made me sign a statement that I was not an Apple employee, was not elgible for the benefits Apple provided to employees, and that if any time I believed that I was an Apple employee, I was to deliver written notification to Apple's legal department. The purpose of this statement was presumably to avoid the exact situation HP appears to be in.

    Later Apple did hire me as an employee. At that point since I believed that I was an employee, pursuant to the previously signed statement I wrote a notice and tried to deliver it to Apple's legal department. They seemed completely flummoxed as to why I was notifying them that I was an employee.

  • About freaking time! (Score:5, Informative)

    by numbski (515011) * <numbski.hksilver@net> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:29PM (#12013962) Homepage Journal
    My wife and I each spent a stint with Compaq (became HP while she still worked there) and they play this game all the time. They work everyone the same, but 'badge' employees actually get vacation, 401k, etc.

    It wasn't right then, and if it's still going on, good for them for suing. I knew people that had worked there for YEARS and never got 'badged'. No vacation time (although you could occassionally get time off without pay) and rarely, if ever would you get any kind of incentive or pay increase. You'd also usually get let go without warning, and the contractors would play a game of saying that you're still employed with the contracting agency, thus not entitled to unemployment benefits (which, at least under Colorado law is not true. I managed to get benefits).

    Anyway, it's about time.
    • Why then, if it's so bad, would you agree to it?

      It seems to me, this is more a matter of integrity. If you and I come to an agreement, you shouldn't expect more than what we agreed to. If you do happen to find a legal loophole to retroactively force me to agree to something I wouldn't have agreed to, then you have zero integrity.
      • by numbski (515011) * <numbski.hksilver@net> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:48PM (#12014197) Homepage Journal
        I don't know about Boise, but in Colorado Springs, it was BAD. Employement opportunities got to be really scarce, no one was going to walk away from their jobs.

        HP simply abused the situation. Looks like in Boise they are continuing to abuse a similar situation. This is more the contracting agencies and HP collaborating to screw people over en masse for profit, using dubious contracting methods. I've worked in the situation, and it is certainly NOT as cut and dried as this article makes it out to be.
        • When employment opportunities get scarce, that generally means there are too many employees, right? So, you would expect pay to generally be forced downward.

          The thing is, in regard to that pay, does it matter how it's paid? I can either pay you 50k a year plus benefits, for arguments sake lets say those benefits total 10k; or I can pay you 60k a year straight, which generally is why contract employees get paid more. In either case, in a "BAD" market, total compensation will generally decrese.

          As for HP
          • I dont know "in my situation" who decided how much the contractors where to be paid but we made seriously less than the full time HP employees, and we where full time employees and these contracts were not 3 or 6 month deals.. we where told up front that you where going to be kicking around for years. (mind you this when when it was still compaq and getting badged still happened back then)

            If we got higher wage then I wouldnt complain. my guess is the Boise people started out as lower paid compaq contractor
    • by R.Caley (126968)
      They work everyone the same, but 'badge' employees actually get vacation, 401k, etc.

      This is why contractors generally get payed significantly more than employees, because they have to buy things the employees get `for free' (including some level of job security).

      If Compaq/HP contractors weren't getting payed sufficiantly more than employees to cover this kind of thing then they should have walked away from the job en-mass. At that point either HP finds they didn't need the contractors anyway, they incre

    • by qwijibo (101731) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:55PM (#12014278)
      There are up sides to being a contractor that are often ignored in these situations as well. If contracting isn't right for you, don't do it.

      I turned down a pretty respectable full time job where I'm working because I'm making substantially more as a contractor. I've been a contractor for over 2 years at the same place. I don't get any benefits through my employer. However, when I was expected to work 60-80 hours a week for well over a year, I got paid for all of those hours. Many companies hire full time employees to make them work 50-80 hours a week after negotiating a 40 hour/week salary. Now I work 40 hours a week and can take days off to even out the long days just to ensure the budget isn't blown like last year.

      Contractor vs full time is a choice you have to make for yourself. They both have their good and bad sides, you just have to know what's important to you and play the system.
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:29PM (#12013963) Homepage Journal
    to avoid paying benefits, etc...

    The IRS rules on this are quite specific and, IIRC, Microsoft lost a huge case on this in the early 90's for hiring contractors that were, in essence, 2nd class employees.

    From the article:

    Huntley's lawsuit cites all 20 criteria and claims that in every case HP treats contract workers as employees.

    Among them:

    Does the worker have assistants whom the company supervises and pays?

    Does the company furnish tools, materials and other equipment sufficient to show control?

    Is the worker required to devote substantially full time to the company?

    Kaupins advises companies to check with the IRS if they have any questions about contract workers vs. employees, because companies can be held liable for back taxes if worker status changes from contractor to employee.

    • by res ipsa loquitur (830489) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:47PM (#12014928)
      You, sir, are correct.

      Most of the posts so far are missing the entire point of this suit. This isn't about whether these contract workers can get the benefits that the employees do. That may be the _reason_ that the people are suing HP, but it is not the issue. The real issue here is whether HP is trying to reclassify employees as contract workers.

      To (over)simplify, if a contract worker is treated like an employee then that contract worker can get the legal protection that an employee gets. That's why those IRS criteria are so important here; they aren't just persuasive arguments, they are central to the case.

      This is not a contract issue any more than hiring child laborers is a contract issue. In either case it really wouldn't matter whether the contract was agreed to or not because the contract would not be enforceable as a matter of law. I'm sure that the people who are suing only care about the benefits that they are missing, but the issue in this case is entirely independent of those benefits.

      Standard disclaimer: I'm not your lawyer and this is not meant to be taken as legal advice.
  • This crap just makes life harder for us contractors who understand the meaning of the paper we sign. I've had contracts that were terminated simply because the company had to adopt a policy of limiting how long a contractor can work for them, so as not to confuse a contractor with "permanent" employees. What's next? A class-action lawsuit by employees who discover that their cow-orkers are all earning a few bucks more than they are?
  • by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:30PM (#12013972) Journal
    If HP loses this suit will it delay future HP purchases of Gulf Stream 5's?

  • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:30PM (#12013978)
    Whats funny to me is that when Microsoft got sued for much the same reasons the response here was very much against the Redmond Giant. Now thats its another company the attitudes seem to have shifted against the contract workers. This is also a reason I will never again do temp work. I'd rather fish uneaten burgers out of the Burger King dumpster.
  • by MisanthropicProgram (763655) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:32PM (#12013998)
    self employed contract workers.
    Back when I did contract work, I always had to go through a large agency because:

    I wasn't on the preferred vendor list

    I needed to have more than five employees working at my company

    I needed to be incorporated - not much of a problem. My accountant did it for me for $75.
    When I asked why the hoops, I was told about IRS rules. When I pinned them on it they confessed that it was because they were afraid of what happened in the article happening to them. As a result, I earned 40% less because of people like the above.
    Hello, when you work for a contract company, you are treated differently: usually paid more then the regular employees.

    Sorry about the rant.

    • by numbski (515011) * <numbski.hksilver@net> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:44PM (#12014133) Homepage Journal
      From experience with HP (Compaq at the time, probably what this facility once was), contractors are paid less, worked more, and given no benefits at all.

      They get worked long term in order to avoid giving said benefits, and a small, SMALL minority will ever get changed to full time.

      If you were in the situation, you'd know how bad it is. This isn't a cut and dried "you're contractor, so you abide by the contract", it's more, "the majority of our workforce is temp so we can treat them like crap and get away with it".

      Of course the contracting companies play along and take their cut too. The whole thing, legal or not, deserves that someone get strung up.
  • by Vengeance (46019) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:33PM (#12014000)
    Frankly, this may well make life more difficult for those of us who act as contract consultants. They pulled this stuff on Microsoft a few years back, and as a consequence contractors don't GET to stay there for extended periods, they are essentially kicked out and forced to find other employment after a rather short amount of time (a year or eighteen months or something?). I worry about what this means to the rest of the industry.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:36PM (#12014033) Homepage Journal
    and I know of a few friends who lost their jobs contracting. All of it was because of lawsuits like this. We did give most of them the chance to become full time employees but a few decided to strike out on their own.

    Now the only contracts we do are short term, IF AT ALL. We now hire consulting companies who bring a solution with them. This can be the same as having 2 or 3 contracters but it avoids the legal issue of whom do these people actually work for.

    Too many courts are more than willing to jump on the side of the plantiffs. Combine that with lottery minded juries and the system is ripe for squeezing.

    A contract is a contract. I cannot ever recall being forced to actually work for a company I did not choose to. The suits are usually the recourse of people who did nothing to protect their marketability.
  • This is pretty typical...

    I'm sure that many of us here (myself included) have worked as a contractor, side-by-side with full-time direct staff, doing the same thing with the same expectations, yet at a fraction of the $$ and benefits.

    Jobs like that are just a stepping stone. Get the experience and move on. :thu:
  • by TheNecromancer (179644) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:41PM (#12014099)
    Hey, this lawsuit is just like the one I'm bringing against /.! I was a "common-law" moderator, and they took my mod rights away! I was expected to perform on the same level as the moderators, but without receiving the same benefits!

    Ooh, you guys are gonna pay me $$$ restitution! :p
  • Not Contract Workers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Uhlek (71945) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:45PM (#12014152)
    While colloquially classified as "contractors," these individuals were not contract employees. They were full-time employees (W-2) of the contracting company, who in turn had a contract with the customer to provide a staffing service. The contract was with their employer -- not the employee directly.

    The contractor vs. employee argument only comes into play when you're talking about true-blue contractors who work for a flat rate under a 1099, not W2 employees.

    This was the situation in the famous Microsoft contractor vs. employee case. Contrary to common belief, the contractors were not the instigators in that case. It was the IRS who audited Microsoft and determined that they had incorrectly classified people as independant contractors as opposed to employees, and was therefore liable for back employment taxes (which, by the way, are paid if you're a W2 employee of a contracting company). The contractors then picked it up from there and demanded that, since the IRS classified them as employees, they were due the benefits give to full-time employees.

    In my humble, and non-lawyerish opinion, this case is entirely without merit. They were employees of the contracting company, and were given a benefit package that they agreed upon by becoming employees.
  • by RevMike (632002) <revMike@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:50PM (#12014222) Journal

    If the news story is accurate, these workers are not the same as if you or I worked as an independent contractor. According to the story, these workers were employees of staffing companies. The staffing companies were the contractors. They are no more entitled to be HP employees than the guy who drives around the lawnmower for a landscaping company deserves to be the direct employee of the landscaper's customer.

    There are laws intended to protect individual workers from being treated like contractors instead of employees. A company can't simply hire people on a 1099 basis instead of a W-2 and duck all sorts of taxes and liabilities. The law provides for a set of tests to distinguish a true independent contractor from these situations. But the plaintiffs in this suit appear to be getting a W-2 from their employers, the staffing companies.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:53PM (#12014250)
    HP & Agilent terminated most of their IT departments and rehired them through an agency.
    So HP deserves everything they get from this lawsuit. The previous posts about these guys
    being asses and wrecking it for all other contractors, well, they don't know the real story. HP is as guilty as
    Microsoft in this case.
  • Recognition (Score:4, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:53PM (#12014253) Journal
    Twenty years ago, I would have wanted recognition for working for HP. Now, I think the FULL TIME employees should sue HP for the right to say hey really work for McDonald's.
  • This just in... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anita Coney (648748) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:57PM (#12014297) Homepage
    HP announced layoffs today in its Boise Idaho facility, affecting approximately 3000 contract workers. Spokeswoman Debra Cartwright was quoted as saying, "Why should we hire American's and their god-damned lawsuits?! We'll outsource this crap and save a ton of money on the tax breaks W gives us!"
  • Who's suing whom? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 3gm (718785) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @02:58PM (#12014309)

    First, let me say that I have been an HP supporter for many years, but my support has waned through the Carly years.

    I subscribe to the point of view that HP likely has violated the law and is simply using these contractors as a way to avoid having regular employees on the rolls. It may or may not be less expensive to have contractors rather than employees doing the work. It most certainly is more flexible since contractors can be let go for no reason at all and with little recourse or potential fallout. It does keep headcount low which is a favorite with financial types.

    I suspect many of these contractors took the contract many months or years ago with little expectation that it would continue this long. They've likley received no pay raises in that time and are feeling a bit mistreated. I'm an independent contractor and I understand their feelings. Where else in Boise does an IT contractor find work?

    My main concern here is why isn't the DOJ or DOL prosecuting this suit? Seems to me questions of employee vs. contractor are settled via federal law and the feds ought to be pursuing alleged abuses, not the individual contractors.

  • Somethings to ponder (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tropaios (244000) <tropaios@yaDEGAShoo.com minus painter> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:00PM (#12014351)
    I read a lot of comments from the field about how it's all about their contract and what's in it. And that's not really the issue here. Simply stating in a contract that a person is not an employee but a contractor doesn't make it so, even if both parties agree. What does matter however is the set of expectations the contracting party puts on the contracted one. Myself I'm a swimming coach and the club I worked for treated me very much like an employee while paying me like a contractor, I chose not to pursue legal action because it's a very small community we coaches travel in, and suing a non-profit childrens organization doesn't sit well with anyone. Instead I just jumped ship and got a better job elsewhere. Anyway, my research led me here: Employee vs. Independant Contractor [1040.com] Enjoy
  • by redbeard_ak (542964) <redbeard@NOSPAm.riseup.net> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:01PM (#12014368) Homepage
    http://www.washtech.org/news/courts/display.php?ID _Content=58

    MS I believe lost all it's appeals but has still been delaying payment... need to check up on that. I know some of the plaintiffs. Last I heard they still hadn't received their checks.

    Judge: Contractors Were Common-Law Employees of Microsoft
    A U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday that workers employed as independent contractors, and then subsequently forced to work through temporary agencies, were in fact common law employees of Microsoft while working at the company between 1987 and 1990. The ruling in the class action Vizcaino v. Microsoft lawsuit also clarified which workers would likely be part of the class, but left open the possibility that potential class members not covered under this case could be a part of future litigation.

    continued in the link

  • by infonography (566403) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:03PM (#12014395) Homepage
    With shrinking wages and long long hours isn't it time to start getting overtime? If you not a manager managing people your a worker. Has long as your bosses can work you like a dog for 60 hours weeks then they won't hire anyone else to take the load. The threat of Overtime for tech workers will help put more of your colleagues to work.
  • by Bruha (412869) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:20PM (#12014630) Homepage Journal
    Our company will let go any contractor that is not hired within 6 months and that is a rule of HR though sometimes people slip through the cracks I've seen it enforced.

    To those that disagree many contract companies will pay you no benefits and they are not required to disclose any of the details of what they get for your work before you are paid. For all you know is that the company could be charging 45 a hour for your work but paying you 20 a hour claiming the extra 25 a hours is for health, vacation and all that but not providing it to you.

    And where I have worked contractors are treated like second class employees, they're not invited to employee functions and other team building events which I disagree with as it hurts the group as a whole making your contractors feel like insiders. Companies that promote these actions should be compelled to invite their contractors to functions. You may end up with more satisfied workers as a whole.
  • by jgardn (539054) <jgardn@alumni.washington.edu> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:25PM (#12014702) Homepage Journal
    That's right! Stick it to 'em!

    This company has been one of the worst offenders, treating its employees and contractors like slaves on a Roman galley, while they sit in their togas enjoying grapes fed to them by beautiful blonde women. I mean the CEOs are making millions and millions while their employees are only able to buy a nice car and a nice house and send their kids to a nice college. It isn't fair!

    I hate corporations. I mean, all the do is sit around and hire people and pay them good money to perform services and make goods, which they turn around and sell for decent prices! I mean, who do they think they are? If I want good products and the latest toys at a good price, why do I have to go to evil corporations to get them? And why do they make obscene profits on my willingness to buy and their employees willingness to work! Is there any justice in the world? Somewhere, somehow, Bushitler and Cheney are involved in this. I smell Rove behind the curtains.

    We should just ban corporations and everything like them. If you want something, you shouldn't be able to go buy it from someone else, unless that person is going to be selling it at a loss. Make it yourself, dangit! And you shouldn't be able to work with other people, even if you pay them. That's not right! What are we, slaves, to be paid for our valuable labor? And you shouldn't be able to sign a contract saying you will provide services to a corporation in exchange for money. If you want money so bad, why don't you just make your own?

    In the meantime, let's file frivolous lawsuits against the best corporations around and make them spend their hard-earned cash defending themselves from lunatics like myself. It's only fair!

  • by BenEnglishAtHome (449670) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:31PM (#12014769)

    How many posters have said "They signed a contract! They're contractors! Screw 'em!"? Those posters are idiots. With the notable exception of just a couple of posters, the ignorance here amazes me.

    For those of you who want some idea what's real and what's hot air being blown by a bunch of no-nothing nerds who think their world-view should inform every business relationship in the country, listen up. IT DOES NOT MATTER IF YOU'VE SIGNED A CONTRACT. IT DOES NOT MATTER (much) WHAT THE CONTRACT SAYS.

    You can sign a contract to work for a big corp wherein you swear a thousand times that you're not an employee and you'll never seek employee benefits and you're not entitled to them and you'll never sue. You and your new bosses can sing from the mountaintops for a month that you are not an employee. And none of that matters.

    Employees are defined by law, not by some silly piece of paper drawn up by the legal department at MegaCorp. If you meet certain criteria, you are an employee. It doesn't matter if you and your bosses agree differently. It doesn't matter what the contract says. If you meet the criteria, you ARE an employee. Period. And if you ARE an employee and your employer is treating you different from other employees (by, for example, referring to you as a contractor and not giving you benefits), then you've got a reason to sue.

    Those criteria are found on this form. [irs.gov] Read it and learn something and quit spouting off about stuff when (most of) you obviously have no idea what you're talking about.

    PS - What really amazes me is how many of you guys are posting "I'm a contractor and..." stories. Reading your posts makes it crystal clear that you often haven't a clue what the definition of "independent contractor" is. And you're making your living as one?!? The mind boggles. It really does.

  • by retendo (321086) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @03:47PM (#12014924) Homepage
    If HP is found guilty then they are not the only ones who will go down for this. BellSouth is very guilty of this. At one point they fired most of their full time IT and development staff and hired Accenture to do most of their IT and development work. Here's the catch, Accenture went and hired all of the same people who were "fired". The same people who had been working the same job for five to fifteen years went right back to work at the same place sitting at the same desk. The only difference is they started getting their paychecks from a different company. Oh, and the other difference is, Accenture did not pay any overtime. Of course some people used the transition to their advantage and made use of their new employer but the whole thing seemed like a somewhat shady tax evasion thing. This happened during the tech bubble burst so people were happy just to have a job. It did seem insane to some people because now BellSouth was paying two to five times as much per resource. I figured it was a big shuffling of the corporate books. I did wonder how legal it was though. This case with HP could prove to be interesting......
  • IRS Publication 15-A (Score:3, Informative)

    by anthony_dipierro (543308) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @08:26PM (#12017987) Journal

    For more information on who is an employee and who is a contractor, see IRS Publication 15-A [irs.gov].

  • by Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) <abacaxi@hotmai l . com> on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @10:24PM (#12019067)
    I've been a (mostly) contract worker since the mid-1980s, mostly as a tech writer, mostly for high-tech companies. Although I've been in and out of a few companies several times I have never mistaken my treatment for that of a permanent employee. I'm a hired hand, not family.
    • I get a higher hourly wage than permanent employees doing the same work.
    • I can use the extra puy to get benefits from the contracting agency ... and they can be pretty good.
    • I can leave early, because I'm paid by the hour, not with a weekly salary.
    • I don't have to play office politics: I just do what they hired me to do and watch managers come and go. In one term at ChipZilla I belonged to three departments while working on one project.
    • If I work more than 40 hours a week, I get OVERTIME ... salaried permanent employees don't.
    • I don't have to get or give performance reviews. If they don't ask me back, I obviously screwed up somewhere.
    • "Does the employer have control over where you work, what time you work and what you work with?" Yes, because letting contractors choose to work in Puerto Vallarta when the project is in Boston is a bit awkward. You have to keep the same hours as the rest of the team, and if they hired you for Project Orlando you can't decide unilaterally to work on Project Ottowa instead.

    "Miller said she was employed by HP in Boise from 1989 to 1995, when she took a severance package and left the company. She returned later in 1995 as a contract worker and worked at HP until March 9. Part of the time she was a contract employee through Veritest and Manpower Professional. Her jobs included testing software for HP printers.""

    Something about this sounds wierd. Every employer I know of has had a strict time limit on length of contract: ChipZilla's is one year, with a minumum of 6 months off the payroll before you can be recontracted. A series of contracts doesn't equal a permanent employment.

    • by teq_man (870006) on Tuesday March 22, 2005 @10:50PM (#12019335)
      This is great for you but most of the contractors that I know are not in that situation. They are working for lower pay, little vacation time, have performance reviews without raises to follow them up. And are not contractors by chioce... They have families, homes, and long technical backgrounds. They are forced into accepting the lower wages in order to try to take care of there families. They have no benifits and insurance options that cost them half of thier wages, which are usually 10 to 20% below tha national average. We are not production workers we are engineers, techs, and managers that have watched long term employees be layed of and then come back the next day as a contractors for half the pay because there are no technical jobs out there. We take jobs with contracting agencies because they are are only option next to working for minimum wage and losing everything we own. We are struggling to survive. Most of us have spent several years in the industry and it is all we know. Most of us love the job and we are not looking for a quick buck. We are frustrated with seeing contractors being taken advatage of because of a bad economy.

The amount of time between slipping on the peel and landing on the pavement is precisely 1 bananosecond.