by P. Orin Zack
Charlie had never thought that his suggestion would be taken literally. Posting it on the forum at the site where the software giant's now-disgruntled ex-employees and ex-contractors gathered after their across-the-board rate cuts were implemented had been as much a throwaway rant as any of the other two dozen posts he'd left there. But something about this one had struck an unexpectedly responsive chord.
He stared at the Cat's-Eye Blogger's mike while she fiddled with the gadget it was attached to, wondering what she'd ask, and hoping he wouldn't sound as nervous as he really was. After all, he hadn't actually been employed by the company, either directly or through any of the two-dozen agencies that supplied contract labor, at the time of the cuts. Sure, he'd worked there over a decade earlier, but things were a lot different then. Contractors had been treated as part of the team he'd worked in, rather than as sub-human cannon fodder for the unending series of death-march projects the idiots they kept hiring as marketers insisted on in order to meet delivery dates that made sense only in their fever-dreams.
When the mike started to rise towards his red-rimmed eyes, Charlie shook himself awake and tried to focus on the young brunette's anxious face, especially on the designer contacts, which gave her blog its name and logo. Of all the requests he'd gotten for an interview over the past day and a half, hers was the only one he'd agreed to. Posting under an alias was an easy way to divert attention from who he really was, but the moment a face was put to the suggestion which had triggered a nationwide avalanche of similar actions, he'd lose any possibility of employment. So, refusing a video interview was an easy choice. Accepting Margot's pitch, though, had been a stroke of genius.
"Okay," she said, "I'm ready now. What would you like me to call you?"
"Let's make it easy on your readers. Just use my forum alias."
Although Margot turned her head slightly towards the device in her hand and the cat's-eye lenses flicked in that direction, Charlie knew that it reflected only her attention being focused on that hand for a moment, because anyone who read her blog knew that she'd been accidentally blinded as a child while visiting her father's workplace. If ever someone had reason to play industrial watchdog, she did.
"It's about three in the morning, and I'm standing at a deserted suburban park-and-ride interviewing the person who triggered the recent spate of what have been dubbed 'meatspace denial of service attacks' against selected companies that supply contract labor to big corporations. He's requested that I use his alias, so please don't think I'm being offensive when I call him Contractor Slime. He agreed to speak with me under the condition that I post a transcript rather than an MP3, and that I destroy the recording before posting the interview to my blog."
Charlie raised a finger. "And that you don't let anyone else hear it before it's erased."
"Yes," she said, shrugging, "of course. Now, then, for the benefit of anyone who doesn't know what you started, could you please restate your suggestion?"
"Sure. And I don't really understand what the big deal is. All I said was that, since there are so many agencies involved in this, that maybe we ought to pick one of them to boycott. That way, all of the company's open job reqs still get filled, and the IT contracting community in the area can still get what jobs there are, but one of the middlemen gets shut out and maybe has to close its doors. After all, some of us end up unemployed. It's only fair that at least one business has to deal with the same problem."
Margot had opened her mouth, but then held her reply while a badly tuned car turned the corner and drove past. When crickets reclaimed the night, she continued. "That was two weeks ago. Within days, every contractor who had submitted a resume for a temp job with the company through one particular agency asked to rescind their interest."
"I might point out here," Charlie broke in, "that I didn't suggest which agency to stiff. Someone else supplied a list, and one was chosen pretty much by acclamation."
She nodded. "But you had made the initial suggestion, so the agency publicly called you out for it."
"By my alias, yes. But they didn't know who they were attacking, and therefore couldn't do much about it."
"And that's when things started to snowball. People who were trying to get contracts at other companies through that agency reacted pretty strongly. Quite a number of them phoned the agency and told them to take a hike, that they'd be using another shop for their job search. And then people already on contracts through the agency - both the ones still on at reduced rates at the software giant, and those contracted to other businesses - started threatening to quit."
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