"Exceptional" high-tech workers?

Some of you may recall the firestorm that “EA Spouse” touched off when she wrote about her husband and his working time spent at Electronic Arts. For those of you who missed it, here’s a snip:

If I could get EA CEO Larry Probst on the phone, there are a few things I would ask him. “What’s your salary?” would be merely a point of curiosity. The main thing I want to know is, Larry: you do realize what you’re doing to your people, right? And you do realize that they ARE people, with physical limits, emotional lives, and families, right? Voices and talents and senses of humor and all that?

The blog had over 2,000 comments from game industry workers, their partners, and even software workers in other sectors. The blog is widely credited for fanning the flames of a class action lawsuit against EA for unpaid overtime.

And all the while, “high technology” workers are often deemed “exceptional” by labour codes. California and the U.S. federal laws support “special” categories of high-tech workers that are exempt from overtime laws. B.C. started with this code, allowing for workers in companies with at least 50% “professional technology” workers to work unpaid overtime.

That means that even receptionists in a Vancouver agency could work up to 80-hour weeks without being paid overtime. Legally.

My question is: What is so exceptional about high-tech workers? Why is exceptional labour law required for this class of worker? Do they save lives? Why the need for “special” circumstance?

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2 responses to “"Exceptional" high-tech workers?

  1. The “50% professional technology workers” requirement in the British Columbia law is an interesting number. What qualifies an individual as a technology worker? How is it defined?

    In the case of video games companies like Electronic Arts, a significant portion of the R&D staff are artists – texture artists, level artists, character animators and so on. Electronic Arts has its single largest campus in Burnaby, BC with 1800+ employees. That studio is responsible for some of the EA’s top brands, including the blockbuster Madden NFL football and Need For Speed racing franchises.

    Is an artist considered a technology worker? Is a writer?

    Ontario passed similar legislation to its counterparts in California and BC in the late 1990s that made it legal not to pay technology workers overtime unless their hours exceeded 64 hours per week. Most of us who were already working 60+ hours a week due to staffing shortages and aggressive deadlines were not happy about the new legislation.

    The legislative examples cited are policy decisions influenced by powerful interests based on projections of where economic growth will happen.

    There really isn’t anything exceptional or distinctive or special about technology workers. Nurses have a much more difficult job and work 12-hour shifts. What’s exceptional is the position that technology workers hold in society.

    As economies in the industrialized world shift from predominantly primary and secondary sector jobs in natural resources and manufacturing to tertiary sector service and information-intensive jobs, it’s advantageous to get as much productive time from employees as possible. Even better if it’s free.

    It also becomes the means to career advancement with bragging rights going to he who puts in the most hours. The technology industry is still a male-dominant and dominated culture, with the bravado that seems to inherently go with that territory.

    It’s interesting that you used the games industry as an example to illustrate the issue of unpaid overtime.

    The games industry culture is one in which sweatshop-like hours are the norm. There are many contributing factors, but the history of the industry is a key one. Historically, publishers pay development studios on a work-for-hire basis, negotiating flat fees to be paid upon meeting various milestones.

    How those milestones are met are up to individual studios and this often results in conditions like those described by EA Spouse.

    But working longer hours doesn’t necessarily produce the best results, especially in a creative endeavour. Who is more productive: the employees who work 16-hour days to solve a problem or the those who take a long lunch or a 30-minute coffee break and solve the same problem in half the time, simply because they have the time to refresh their minds and think?

    -K

  2. The “50% professional technology workers” requirement in the British Columbia law is an interesting number. What qualifies an individual as a technology worker? How is it defined?

    In the case of video games companies like Electronic Arts, a significant portion of the R&D staff are artists – texture artists, level artists, character animators and so on. Electronic Arts has its single largest campus in Burnaby, BC with 1800+ employees. That studio is responsible for some of the EA’s top brands, including the blockbuster Madden NFL football and Need For Speed racing franchises.

    Is an artist considered a technology worker? Is a writer?

    Ontario passed similar legislation to its counterparts in California and BC in the late 1990s that made it legal not to pay technology workers overtime unless their hours exceeded 64 hours per week. Most of us who were already working 60+ hours a week due to staffing shortages and aggressive deadlines were not happy about the new legislation.

    The legislative examples cited are policy decisions influenced by powerful interests based on projections of where economic growth will happen.

    There really isn’t anything exceptional or distinctive or special about technology workers. Nurses have a much more difficult job and work 12-hour shifts. What’s exceptional is the position that technology workers hold in society.

    As economies in the industrialized world shift from predominantly primary and secondary sector jobs in natural resources and manufacturing to tertiary sector service and information-intensive jobs, it’s advantageous to get as much productive time from employees as possible. Even better if it’s free.

    It also becomes the means to career advancement with bragging rights going to he who puts in the most hours. The technology industry is still a male-dominant and dominated culture, with the bravado that seems to inherently go with that territory.

    It’s interesting that you used the games industry as an example to illustrate the issue of unpaid overtime.

    The games industry culture is one in which sweatshop-like hours are the norm. There are many contributing factors, but the history of the industry is a key one. Historically, publishers pay development studios on a work-for-hire basis, negotiating flat fees to be paid upon meeting various milestones.

    How those milestones are met are up to individual studios and this often results in conditions like those described by EA Spouse.

    But working longer hours doesn’t necessarily produce the best results, especially in a creative endeavour. Who is more productive: the employees who work 16-hour days to solve a problem or the those who take a long lunch or a 30-minute coffee break and solve the same problem in half the time, simply because they have the time to refresh their minds and think?

    -K

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