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This week, Microsoft announced it would cut 18,000 jobs—14 percent of its employees and the largest mass layoff in company history—but that number did not include Microsoft's vendors, also known as its "shadow workforce."

These people aren't officially on Microsoft's payroll, but there are a lot of them—a Seattle Times story from 2009 estimated there were around 70,700.

According to a memo sent to The Stranger this afternoon, they're all losing their jobs in the next 18 months with an option to reapply 6 months afterwards. From then on, they'll be restricted to 18-month rotations with 6-month breaks.

The memo:

Hi, [redacted]

Many of you may have heard the announcement today that a new mandatory break in service policy has gone into effect. This effects everyone on both a- and v- assignments. Moving forward, all Talent working at Microsoft (a- and v-) will be subject to a mandatory break in service after 18 months

Anyone currently on an a- assignment can now work 18 months before taking their break in service. Talent on assignment prior to July 1, 2014, may be eligible to perform services for the duration of their original 365 days, plus an additional six months to bring them in-line with the new 18-month access policy. (Note that this is still contingent on budget and need.)

Everyone on a v- assignment will also have a break in service. Talent on v- assignments as of July 1, 2014 may continue assignments for up to 18 months that is, until January 1, 2016.

The new break in service term is now 6 months for all Talent (both a- and v-). For a- Talent, this applies to anyone who completes their 18 month term limit after July 1, 2014. For v- Talent, the break will be effective January 1, 2016...

Any Microsoft employee who separated from Microsoft on or after July 1, 2014, will be required to take a minimum 6-month break from access between the day the employee separates from Microsoft and the date when the former employee may begin an assignment as an External Staff performing services for Microsoft.

We have several outstanding questions about the new policy, but please also let me know if you have questions.

Thank you,
[redacted]

The difference between a- ("ay dash") and v- ("vee dash") workers is one of continuity. One worker at a Microsoft contracting agency who agreed to speak anonymously explained that a- contracts could last as long as 365 days, followed by a mandatory 100-day break. "I strongly suspect that this was the manifestation of Microsoft exploiting some form of loophole that would allow them to avoid some sort of labor violation or dispute," he said.

V- contracts, on the other hand, used to be "ongoing contracts, entered into by indirect employees usually referred to as vendors, contingent staff, or simply contractors. These are very common around Microsoft and they are contracts with no definite end date and no mandated 100-day break. I have known many v- contractors that have worked 3 or more years on one contract... I'm quite sure there are veterans of 10 years of continuous contracting out there."

Not any more.

Another vendor, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said this move ultimately stems from a class-action lawsuit back in the early 2000s, which resulted in the a- and v- distinction.

But lately, a lot of a- work was being routed through the v- system, allowing managers to keep people on for longer without having to deal with the 100-day break. (Or the company having to pay full salary and benefits.) Microsoft, she said, is probably doing this to close a loophole.

"What they're doing is rolling the two programs into one program so there won't be any distinction," she said. "Now anyone who is not a full-time Microsoft employee will be required to take a break."

Yet another employee who agreed to speak anonymously said he thought this screw-tightening on Microsoft's part was justified. "As someone who likes Microsoft, I agree there is a lot of fat in the company," he said. But unlike the layoffs in 2009, which management telegraphed for months before they happened, these are coming as a surprise. "There is," he said, "no internal conversation preparing us for any of this."