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Cyberworkers, Unite!

Christopher Gardner

FACE-off: Intel blocked the Former and Current Employees Web site from its computer system, saying it was "defamatory" and inaccurate. Other Internet service providers also refused to carry the site.

A revolutionary Web site launched by rebel Intel employees brings the nation's biggest communications union to Silicon Valley.

By Josh Feit

FEW WOULD EXPECT problems accessing Web sites at Intel headquarters. Heck, this is the place where the Pentium II processor, the fastest microchip on earth, was unveiled earlier this month. But try calling up www.igc.apc.org/faceintel from Intel's national headquarters in Santa Clara, and the computer is likely to bark back "abort," "fail," "retry" or .

That's because it's the World Wide Web address of FACE Intel, a group of dissident Intel employees and ex-employees. Company officials have electronically roped off the site from its workers.It's hardly surprising that a company with 35,000 employees nationwide has its share of internal and external critics. What is unusual is how the dissidents keep in touch. The electronic revolt at Intel demonstrates yet another use for the Internet--one that is of particular interest to labor unions, who have been largely unsuccessful in organizing the high-tech industry.

The Intel insurgents, led by Ken Hamidi, are teaching unions how to take advantage of the one thing techies have in common: computers.

Hamidi worked as an engineer at the company's Montague Expressway office for nine years. He was fired in 1992, he says, after Intel ignored his medical needs. (His disability claim was denied by the state of California last year.)

About a year ago, after meeting another exasperated former Intel employee, Hamidi founded Former and Current Employees at Intel (FACE). FACE was originally called Associated X-Employees of Intel, but changed its name when a number of current employees signed on. The group has 14 core members and about 150 more who participate less actively, he says.

The agent provocateurs at FACE accuse the computer-chip maker of intimidating workers with abusive disciplinary actions, discriminating on the basis of age, race, gender and medical disability and "brainwashing" young workers.

Hamidi says the group's message is catching on. FACE announced the formation of a sister chapter in Chandler, Ariz., this week and plans to boot up a Portland, Ore., chapter within the next two months.

Hamidi attributes FACE's success to the Web site.

Since going online in March, it's logged more than 100,000 visits. One Portland FACE member, who requested anonymity, says he discovered the group after a co-worker tipped him off to the site.

But it's hard to gauge how much interest FACE holds outside the state of California. Intel's Portland spokesman, Bill Calder, says he's seen FACE mentioned on intraoffice email, but adds, "I don't think it's a very big deal." He says people shouldn't conclude that the group is significant just because it has an eye-popping Web site.

The FACE home page is an elegant, easy-to-navigate electronic log of anti-Intel grievances.

Double-click on "Is Intel a Great Place to Work?" and you see a chart from the California Public Employees Retirement System, which gives Intel a grade of "D." There's also a ranking of good employers from Working Mothers magazine that includes high-tech titans like Microsoft and Tektronix but excludes Intel.

Select "Survival Guide for Intel Employees," and you'll be advised, "Don't be subservient and allow them to deprive you of your rights." Other topics you can click on for more information include "Labor Lawsuits at Intel" and "Examples of Discrimination at Intel."

URL Not Found

Intel officials deny FACE's charges and say they blocked the Web site because the information was inaccurate. "In our view it's defamatory," says Intel spokeswoman Tracy Koon. "We have a right to control how our computer system is used, and we chose not to use it for this small group of people."

Koon says Intel has blocked other Web sites, such as those featuring pornography.

At first, Hamidi responded by changing Web site addresses several times.

Then his Internet service provider dropped his site. A second provider did the same. Hamidi suspects that influential Intel persuaded the California providers to steer clear of FACE.

Hamidi remedied that problem by hooking up with the Communications Workers of America, which has its own Internet service. Intel employees can now access the FACE Web site through the CWA site, which Intel cannot block. "CWA will not be intimated by Intel," Hamidi says.

The CWA has long sought a foothold in staunchly nonunionized Silicon Valley and is clearly delighted to help out disgruntled workers at the nation's largest chip-maker. Earlier this month, the CWA invited Hamidi to speak at an international union conference on the U.S. high-tech industry. "We are incredibly interested in the way he has been organizing online," says union spokeswoman Candice Johnson.

Traditionally, when manufacturing workers try to organize, companies draw "no trespassing" lines around company grounds to keep out union reps. In the Internet age, however, unions can get their message to every worker who can go online. European unions have been much more successful than their U.S. counterparts at unionizing the computer industry.

FACE probably isn't at the top of Intel's fret list these days--the company was sued by Digital Equipment Corp. and Cyrix Corp. not long ago over the technology in the original Pentium chip--but given the interest of unions and the cyber-savvy of the work force, Hamidi and his band of online critics are likely to hang around like an annoying virus.

Josh Feit is a reporter from Portland, Ore., who writes for Willamette Week.

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From the June 19-25, 1997 issue of Metro.

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