Friday, February 27, 2009

Microsoft temps take pay hit as staffing firms agree to cut fees

The third-party staffing agencies that provide temporary workers to Microsoft have agreed to a 10 percent reduction in the rate they charge the software giant, and many are passing a similar cut onto their employees.

It's the latest cost-saving move Microsoft has made to adjust to a recession that is clipping both consumer and business spending.

Staffing-industry analysts say the agencies that absorb more of the reduction themselves — rather than pass it all on to the workers — could gain favor with workers who will remember it when the market recovers and labor again becomes tight.

But these firms, which typically have single-digit profit margins, also have to stay in business until then.

For the workers facing smaller checks, the pay cut was an unwelcome, if not altogether unexpected, development.

Contract positions at Microsoft have been quietly eliminated over the past several months. One woman described earlier cuts in pay rates and benefits her husband has seen.

"If cuts are made on top of these prior reductions, that amounts to a significant loss in income and will make a sizable impact on the local economy," she said in an e-mail.

The woman, like several contractors who contacted The Seattle Times, asked for anonymity for fear that speaking out could jeopardize their jobs.

Some of the contract employees said they were glad to keep their jobs, even at lower pay. Washington's unemployment rate in January was 7.8 percent, higher than the estimated national rate of 7.6 percent.

Microsoft, which announced its first companywide layoff of full-time employees last month, said at the time it was also seeking to reduce its spending on vendor and contingent staff up to 15 percent.

The company does not disclose how many contract employees it uses. Estimates range in the tens of thousands for all contract workers, including temporary workers, who are typically paid on an hourly basis; and vendors, often higher-skilled individuals brought on for specific Microsoft projects.

Vendors, referred to as "v-dash" employees, were not affected by the rate reductions.

"We held discussions with some of the impacted agencies and settled on the 10 percent reduction based on the economic climate and the need to achieve greater cost reductions," spokesman Lou Gellos said in an e-mailed statement.

That reduction is for existing contracts. New temporary contracts will see bill rates reduced 15 percent.

Donn Harvey, president of the Staffing Association of Washington, said it appears most staffing firms are passing on the reductions directly to their employees.

Harvey is president of Bellevue-based Protingent Staffing, which provides vendors to Microsoft and is not affected by these rate reductions.

The bill rate Microsoft pays the agencies is substantially higher than the hourly pay the contract workers earn. This margin covers the agencies' cost for taxes, overhead, employee benefits and their own profits.

For example, if a staffing firm billed Microsoft $100 an hour for a worker the firm paid $60 an hour, a 10 percent reduction passed to the worker would reduce his or her pay by $10 an hour, or nearly 17 percent.

And indeed, some contract workers reported facing pay cuts of greater than 10 percent.

Surnish Nirula, director of business development at staffing agency Aditi USA in Bellevue, said his firm is trying to limit the cut borne by employees to 10 percent.

Two of the larger staffing agencies, Volt and Excell Data, did not respond to requests for comment.

"We are working hard ... to absorb costs even before this announcement came along," Nirula said. "Obviously, we have to run a viable business. It's a painful decision for us to take as well."

Eric Gregg, managing partner at the Inavero Institute, a Portland firm that provides research on and for the staffing industry, said agencies that protect their bottom line while insulating employees from the full brunt of the cuts could position themselves better in the long run.

A recent study Inavero did with found that job candidates tend to remember staffing firms that looked out for them.

"These are the times that people remember," Gregg said. "It's not when jobs are prevalent and you have the pick of the litter, it's when a company is forced to make some tough decisions."

He said candidates also need to be realistic. Staffing agencies typically don't have the profit margins to absorb significant cuts from Microsoft, likely one of their biggest clients.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Diversiform-Leaved Poplar Sightseeing District

Located in Ejina Banner of Alxa League, 640 kilometers from Bayanhot, the natural diversiform-leaved poplar forest covering an area of 450,000 mu is one of the only three of its kind existing in the world today and is designated as a State grade natural protection district and forest park. It is believed that poplar trees can live up to a thousand years, would never fall down for a thousand years after death and never get rotten for a thousand years after falling down. Therefore the species is praised as living plant-fossil and designated as the second grade plant for protection. The district is also a main venue for Ejina Banner to hold festival activities and large scale meetings. It is a poplar ecology and culture demonstration base and ideal location for photo amateurs.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chairman Gordon Highlights Role of Science in Facing Energy Challenges

The solution to the current energy crisis will come from American innovation; however, the current approach to energy research hasn’t resulted in the breakthroughs we need. The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy or ARPA-E will revolutionize how our country develops new energy technologies.

Today we need revolutionary breakthroughs, not just incremental change. Currently, potentially revolutionary research may be too risky or multi-disciplinary to fit into a specific program’s mission at the Department of Energy, and the peer review system tends to favor established investigators pursuing well-understood concepts.

ARPA-E will solve those problems. ARPA-E came out of recommendations in the National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, and modeled after DARPA, which gave the Department of Defense breakthroughs like stealth technology, body armor, GPS, and the Internet. ARPA-E will leverage many of the same organizational elements that fostered innovation at DARPA. ARPA-E will be a similarly non-bureaucratic agency that brings together the best and brightest from industry, academia, and the public sector to pursue high-risk, high-reward research.

ARPA-E is charged with developing technologies that: reduce dependency on foreign oil; improve the energy efficiency of all economic sectors; reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and maintain U.S. leadership in the development and deployment of energy technologies.

ARPA-E was signed into law last August as part of the America COMPETES act (PL 110-69). The FY09 House appropriations bill provides $15 million for ARPA-E to get organized, and it will fall to the next President to make this new approach to addressing our energy challenges a priority.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Aberystwyth group shows the way for Wales’ sustainable future

Ms Davidson was in the area to promote the Sustainable Development Scheme which will see the Welsh Assembly Government using all its devolved powers to make every part of the public sector sustainable for the benefit of the environment and the people of Wales.

Sustainable Development is defined as improving people’s quality of life and wellbeing whilst using environmental resources sustainably, so that development now does not compromise the quality of life of future generations. The new plan calls for joined up decision making at all levels of government and the public sector to achieve this.

The Minister went to see the work of CRAFT, a successful not-for-profit furniture reuse business that works to reduce environmental impact.

During the visit, Ms Davidson said:

This plan is a new vision for Wales. The Assembly Government will use all its devolved powers – from health, transport to education – to lessen Wales’ environmental impact on the world and help protect our country for future generations.

She added that CRAFT showed sustainability in action:

CRAFT shows us exactly how groups and individuals can make a real difference. By encouraging people to donate unwanted items to be reused by others, it benefits both the local community and the environment.

It is an excellent real-life example of a project that puts sustainable development into practice – helping to reduce the amount of resources we use and a good demonstration of the type of initiative that I would like to see encouraged throughout Wales.

Allison Cann, Manager of CRAFT added:

CRAFT makes it easy for people to do their bit to help build a better, greener future. The generosity of people who give their unwanted belongings or their time lets CRAFT do all sorts of things.

Anyone can come to the shop to buy everything from an affordable three piece suite to a teaspoon, cooker, computer or a paperback. CRAFT employs 13 paid staff, provides training and volunteer opportunities and helps all sorts of people throughout the year.