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Google employees demand better treatment for contract workers amid coronavirus crisis

Google employees demand better treatment for contract workers amid coronavirus crisis


Some Google contractors weren’t being allowed to work from home

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

A group of Google employees has sent a memo to company leadership demanding stronger commitments to protect the more vulnerable members of Google’s workforce, primarily its contract workers, during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, according to a report from Business Insider.

The memo is written by both full-time employees and contract workers, otherwise known as “TVC” employees for temporary, vendor or contractor. Google has a longstanding reputation for employing a massive number of contract workers it treats as second-class employees to cut costs and avoid having to foot the bill for the benefits it provides to full-time workers, including access to certain transportation and dining options and other benefits like stock options, paid vacation time, and premium healthcare plans.

Google has long been accused of employing a ‘shadow workforce’ of contractors

These workers aren’t just cafeteria employees, security guards, or those who drive the company’s many commuter shuttle buses. The contractor workforce at Google includes programmers, graphic designers, human resource employees and all manner of other office workers, as well. The New York Times referred to these people in an investigation last year as Google’s “shadow workforce,” which has grown in recent years to roughly the same size as the company's full-time employee count.

The coronavirus pandemic is now making the division between full-time Google workers and contract ones even starker. The memo circulating internally on Tuesday includes a list of demands. The memo writers want firm work-from-home policies for all Google offices and a guarantee of paid time off in the event workers are forced to stay home due to self-quarantine measures or shelter in place orders from local government, or in the event their job involved a service that cannot be offered due to office closures and other disruptions to Google’s operations.

The memo notes that some Google contractors, like those in the company’s Pittsburgh office employed by an independent company called HCL Technologies, have been forced to come into the office, even as full-time Google employees were first allowed and then instructed to stay home. According to Business Insider, some HCL contractors wore black in a protest at the Pittsburgh office’s cafeteria on Monday. The participating workers, who are unionized through HCL, publicized the protest ahead of the memo’s circulation through their local chapter.

“We know that leadership clearly values the health and safety of our workplaces and communities,” the memo, which began circulating on Tuesday, reads. “But when it comes to our ‘extended workforce,’ Google and its contracting agencies are falling short.” The memo goes on to say that “entire offices full of TVCs have no[t] yet had their remote access requests approved, and they are asked to come into the office while this is pending.

In a statement to Business Insider, HCL said, “Specific to our Pittsburgh-based employees, we have already communicated a work from home option in consultation with our client, Google. We are enabling a remote working model to keep their health and safety as the priority in line with our other global efforts around the COVID-19 situation.”

Google also said it has approved HCL workers for remote work, but only did so on Tuesday. “We’re working closely with all our vendor partners to increase the ability for their employees to work from home by rolling out remote access as quickly as possible,” a Google spokesperson told Business Insider in a statement. “HCL employees in Google Pittsburgh were approved for remote access today and no HCL employees will be required to come into the Pittsburgh office starting tomorrow.”