April 8 — A “historic coalition” has been established among full-time employees and temporary workers, vendors and contractors (TVCs) employed by the global tech giant Google. As of April 2, some 928 Google workers had signed a letter issued on March 27 denouncing the corporation’s arbitrary early terminations of some temporary contract employees. All sectors of the corporation’s workforce are protesting mistreatment of these workers.
On International Women’s Day, March 8, Google managers had suddenly informed 34 members of the 43-person Personality Team that their contracts would be terminated by either April 5 or, for a few, July 31. This international group of workers creates the digital voices of Google Assistant in 50 languages. Their contracts were unfairly nullified.
Then on April 2, Google bosses sent an internal email about some benefits for temporary workers, vendors and contractors working in the U.S. — stating that companies which contract workers to provide services must provide paid sick time and parental leave as well as health care and a $15-an-hour wage. Although these measures show progress, most don’t go into effect immediately, so they won’t help the now-terminated workers.
But these changes in policy followed months of pressure from workers. That full-time employees are supporting the “gig” workers is a “historic show of solidarity,” say Google workers. They are “inspired by the thousands of full-time employees and TVC’s who came together to make this happen. It proves that when we overcome what divides us, even a company as big as Google can be moved!”
However, they caution, “[T]here’s still a long way to go. For us on the Personality Team, we are still waiting to hear back about whether the company will respect our current contracts or convert us to full-time positions.” (tinyurl.com/yxh4hnf5)
Human toll of contract work
These workers say they were assured at prior meetings that their contracts would be respected if budget cuts were enacted. Despite this “promise,” layoffs began in Seoul, continued in London and then occurred in New York and California. Personality Team members say that, simultaneously, company bosses told full-time employees not to offer these workers support — when they needed it the most! — or to thank them for their work, and to distance themselves or the company would be “legally liable.”
When the letter circulated internally on March 27, an executive caved in and allowed employees to show sympathy to their fired co-workers!
The Personality Team explains, “For years, Google has boasted of its ability to scale up and down very quickly” and “‘navigate changes with agility.’” However, “a whole team thrown into financial uncertainty is what scaling down quickly looks like for Google workers. This is the human cost of agility.”
The company employs 122,000 temporary workers, vendors and contract employees, who comprise a majority of the workforce — 54 percent. Their contracts range from two to six months and are regularly renewed. Their term limit is two years. These employees lack paid holidays, health care and other benefits. Workers call this management’s “two-tier system.”
It’s all about super-profits. Google, a $795-billion global behemoth, reaps mega-profits by deliberately cutting labor costs by hiring contract and temporary workers, paying them less and giving them far fewer benefits than full-time workers. But now these workers are insisting the corporation respect their agreements, rights, dignity — and humanity. They are demanding full-time jobs and full benefits. They are not aiming their fire at full-timers, but assert this is a fight of all Google workers against their employer.
Class solidarity and activism grow
This is the most recent protest of company actions by Google employees. Last year, when tech workers publicly objected to the use of their work to help the U.S. military conduct the “business of war,” the company responded to the pressure and cancelled the Pentagon deals.
Inspired by the Marriott Hotel workers’ strike and a one-day walkout by McDonald’s employees opposing workplace sexual abuse, 20,000 Google employees walked out of their workplaces on four continents on Nov. 1. This coordinated global job action, which was mostly organized online, won some protections against sexual harassment and the dropping of forced arbitration in those cases.
But company bosses would not budge on systemic discrimination, refusing to even address it. When issuing the call for the Nov. 1 walkout, organizers strongly criticized rampant racism and gender discrimination in both pay rates and job assignments. They demanded equal treatment for temporary workers, vendors and contractors, many of them women, Black, Latinx and immigrants. This was an important show of class solidarity by higher-paid tech workers with the most oppressed workers and an acknowledgement that they were all fighting the same boss.
In December, some temporary workers, vendors and contractors sent a letter to CEO Sindar Pichai “accusing the tech company of creating a segregated workforce,” and saying, “[B]ecause contract workers are more likely to be people of color … the dynamic reinforces ‘a system of institutional racism, sexism and discrimination.’” (Vox.com, April 4)
While Google bosses publicly appear to support the workers, behind the scenes they are trying to squelch organizing and political protest. In 2017 and 2018, including three weeks after the Nov. 1 global walkout, the communications behemoth asked the National Labor Relations Board to scrap a 2014 legal protection that allowed workers to organize about job issues using workplace email systems.
That sneak attack on workers’ rights comes at a time of increasing militancy, class consciousness, solidarity and activism within the Google workforce. Awareness is growing that collective action is the only way to make gains. There is even talk of unions.