Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Google’s Chance To Do Good For Gig Workers

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Google is famous for workplaces called “campuses” where employees get enormous paychecks and enjoy all the perks of fancy private college campuses, including pingpong tables and other entertainment. ­

But other workers who produce for Google across the country are not so pampered. They are Google’s underclass. In this two-tier system, these workers get less money, less respect, and fewer perks.

It’s no wonder that these workers, like those at HCL, a contracting company that helps staff Google’s offices, have turned to labor unions to help fight for better conditions. Employees of HCL in Pittsburgh filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board late last month requesting a vote on representation by the Pittsburgh Association of Technical Professionals, a project of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, the union I lead.

And a union will help these workers. But Google also has a golden opportunity to change this system, to go to bat for contract workers. It wields clout over its contractors and should encourage them to do right by their employees, like those at HCL.

Because sure, pingpong tables are nice, but what these workers want is what all workers deserve: fair pay, decent benefits, a voice in their workplace and the job security that comes from a bargained labor contract.

Google should encourage HCL to recognize the union and give its employees a fair contract. By doing this, Google would set a significant example for the tech industry.

Contract and gig workers, like those at HCL, are a big part of the U.S. economy — a 2018 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 15.5 million Americans worked as independent contractors, on-call employees, freelancers or temporary employees. That’s up from 12.1 million in 1995.

Besides lower pay, contract workers often get fewer benefits than a company’s regular employees. Or they get no benefits­.

Now, they’re turning to labor unions — like so many workers in other fields have done — to improve their lot.

The Trump administration should be sticking up for them also. But it isn’t. It’s almost as if the National Labor Relations Board is stuck in the 1950s, unable to catch up with a new economy in which workers need protection even though their working arrangements have changed.

Just look at the board’s ruling on the drivers for SuperShuttle, the airport transportation company. The board ruled in January that the drivers are contractors, not employees, so they’re unable to organize.

NLRB officials have adopted a similar position with other gig workers, including Uber drivers.

The board dealt gig workers another big blow late last month. It ruled that Velox Express Inc., a medical courier service in Arkansas and Tennessee, didn’t violate the National Labor Relations Act by misclassifying employees as contractors.

A decision like that will embolden other employers to pass employees off as contractors. If employees challenge a misclassification and win, the company faces no penalty. That’s no deterrent for abusing workers.

The NLRB must get with the times, just as labor unions have. In addition to its core industries, the USW now represents pharmacists, physicians, nurses, college professors, lawyers and workers in many other fields. And labor unions of all sorts are stepping up to help gig workers, many of whom are millennials who understand the benefits of union representation.

Lots of money is at stake in worker classification battles. But there’s something more — the compact between worker and employer — that’s also on the line.

Employees make a company what it is. Their dedication turns a profit and keeps customers happy. Their innovation enables a company to get ahead. In return, a company has an obligation to provide its workers — all of its workers — with decent wages and benefits.

Uber and Lyft don’t get it yet. They’re prime examples of gig economy employers getting rich on the backs of “independent” contractors, some of whom don’t make minimum wage after costs for gas, insurance and car repairs are considered.

In California, lawmakers are considering a bill that could make it more difficult for companies to classify gig workers as contractors. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have vowed to spend up to $90 million on a ballot initiative that would help them to classify workers on their terms.

That’s a lot of money to spend to hold working people down.

Across the country, Google has a veritable army of contract workers. In fact, it has more contract workers than employees. HCL is one of many companies that provide Google with “TVCs,” shorthand for “temps, vendors and contractors.”

Bloomberg and other news outlets have reported on this “shadow work force.” The contract workers’ badges, red instead of a Google employee’s white, are only one sign of their second-class status. Contract workers often are paid significantly less than direct workers and are denied some of the perks that Google employees get.

In April, Google announced that it would require contract workers to be given health care, sick leave and parental leave by 2022 and a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2020. But contractors can do better.

Nationwide, Google’s contract workers perform a variety of functions ranging from code-writing to human resources work to team management. When companies pay these workers less than their own employees or save money on benefits, they shore up their already-robust bottom line, keep investors happy and provide more money for stock buybacks that enrich CEOs.

If the federal government won’t protect workers, states should step in when they can, as California is doing.

To be considered contractors under California’s bill, workers would have to be free of a company’s “control and direction,” perform duties outside the company’s regular scope of work and have other employment.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego who introduced the legislation, said the NLRB’s position on Uber drivers “is just one more instance in President Trump’s growing list of attacks against workers.”

State lawmakers and organized labor are important allies for contract and gig workers. But Google can make a big difference also. Google has a chance to step up, demand fairness for contract workers and become a role model for the entire tech industry, an industry that prides itself on innovation.

This blog was originally published by the Our Future on September 9, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

Forced arbitration silences sexual harassment victims. After protests, Google finally got rid of it.

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

One week after 20,000-plus Google employees around the world staged a mass walkout to protest the company’s discrimination and its abysmal handling of sexual misconduct complaints against top-level executives — as the New York Times reported, multiple senior executives were granted multimillion-dollar severance packages or promotions after being accused of sexual violence — the company has announced revisions to its sexual harassment policy. Top of the list: An end to forced arbitration clauses.

In a memo to all employees, Google CEO Sundar Pichai detailed the changes employees could expect, and though the first bullet point about arbitration came with some defensive caveats (“Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons”), the change is a meaningful one that appears to be catching on among tech giants.

Chances are, you’ve signed a policy just like this one without even realizing it. As of 2017, more than half of American workers were bound by arbitration clauses, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

And if you didn’t sign one at work, you may have signed one elsewhere: In May, Uber announced it would be eliminating forced arbitration agreements for employees, riders, and drivers who make sexual assault or harassment claims against the rideshare company. Which means, until May, if you were an Uber rider, buried in the Terms & Conditions that virtually no one reads was language that forbade you from taking a sexual misconduct claim against Uber to the courts.

As the New York Times reported, Uber already allowed drivers and employees to get out of those agreements as long as they opted out within the first 30 days of signing their Uber contracts — but no such provision was in place for the riders.

Last December, Microsoft announced that it was eliminating forced arbitration agreements with employees who make sexual harassment claims. The company also declared its support for a proposed federal law that would essentially ban these still-commonplace agreements. “The silencing of people’s voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, told the New York Times.

And it was a forced arbitration clause that Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes lorded over Gretchen Carlson, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2016. He fought back by pointing to the language in her Fox contract that barred her from bringing those claims to court and requesting that the court compel Carlson to engage in arbitration instead.

Carlson’s contract didn’t just stop her from bringing her claims to the justice system; it stipulated that “all filings, evidence and testimony connected with the arbitration, and all relevant allegations and events leading up to the arbitration, shall be held in strict confidence.” At least a dozen women reported similar experiences, with parallels not just to the initial harassment but with Ailes’ weaponizing of legal language in their employment contracts.

Other changes to Google’s sexual harassment policy, according to Pichai’s memo, include: “more granularity” around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes; an “overhaul” and consolidation of the means by which employees can report misconduct; “extra care and resources” for Google employees throughout the reporting process, with “extended counseling and career support”; and updated and expanded mandatory sexual harassment training, with failure to comply resulting in negative performance reviews.

Left unaddressed are workers’ demands that the internal harassment report be made public and that an employee representative be added to Google’s board. Only full-time employees are covered by the changes Pichai describes; contractors, vendors, and temporary workers are not.

Google Walkout For Change, the organizers behind last week’s mass demonstration, issued a statement that “commend[ed] this progress, and the rapid action which brought it about,” but called out what the workers’ perceive as the memo’s shortcomings. Mainly, “The company must address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone.”

Last year, Senators Lindsey Graham (R – SC) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) introduced legislation that would void arbitration agreements that prevent sexual harassment victims from seeking justice through the courts. It also allows victims to file EEOC complaints in addition to pursuing legal action in court, and it prevents employers from compelling arbitration, even in cases where the employee already signed an agreement with a forced arbitration clause.

A bill similar to the one introduced in the Senate, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017, was introduced in the House by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL). It
has bipartisan support and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. In 2019, with a Democratic majority in place, the House might actually pass it.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress.

Google employees demand company do something about sexual harassment and pay inequality

Friday, November 2nd, 2018

All over the world, employees at Google are demonstrating that they won’t tolerate sexual harassment, low pay, and other poor working conditions. Google workers in  London, Zurich, Dublin, Berlin, Tokyo, and Singapore organized walkouts on Thursday. U.S. workers in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Mountain View, California have also walked out.

Workers were responding to a New York Times article from last week that showed the tech company paid millions of dollars to male executives who were accused of sexual harassment and kept it a secret. One of these executives, Andy Rubin, was given a $90 million exit package despite a woman’s credible claims of sexual violence.

Google staff have decided to leave notes on their desks that read, “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone,” according to the BBC.

According to a 2017 Women in Tech survey, 53 percent of female tech employees said they had experienced harassment when working in tech and 63 percent of women said it happened two or three times. Twenty three percent of women who experienced harassment said they reported the incident to senior leadership and 16 percent reported it to HR. Thirty-five percent of those workers who reported said they suffered repercussions and only 9 percent said their harassers experienced consequences for their actions.

Workers also have a specific set of demands for management, including a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality, disclosure of sexual harassment to the public, an inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously, having the chief diversity officer answer directly to the CEO, appointing an employee representative to the board, and ending forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination. The latter demand would apply to both current and future workers at Google. The chief diversity officer would also make recommendations directly to the Google’s board of directors.

Issues such as forced arbitration and nondisclosure agreements have received more attention after a slew of news stories broke last year showing powerful men had long histories of sexual harassment and violence — and that for decades, they got away with it.

In October, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced legislation that would ban mandatory arbitration and class and collective action waivers in labor matters. Earlier this year, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a bill to prohibit certain kinds of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that aid to silence sexual harassment victims.

Brenda Salinas, a Google employee in London, told The New York Times that although she did not participate in the walkout due to an injury, she supported it.

“Last week was one of the hardest weeks of my yearlong tenure at Google, but today is the best day. I feel like I have thousands of colleagues all over the world who like me, are committed to creating a culture where everyone is treated with dignity,” she told the Times.

Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive, said on Wednesday that “Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes” and that “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Google workers have been trying to address issues of inequality and gender and racial biases in their workplace for years. One example of this tension is the 10-page memo authored by James Damore that was circulated throughout the company last year and that opposed hiring that considered racial and gender diversity in tech. Damore suggested that women were biologically unsuited for advancement in tech and listed personality traits he said women have more of. Damore wrote, “Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.”

Damore was eventually fired in August of last year, after the memo was leaked to the press. Last year, the Department of Labor also reviewed a sample of compensation data for Google. The department  has accused the Google of “extreme” discrimination against female employees and said there is a “systemic” gap in pay between men and women at company. Google has resisted giving the department all the data it has on the matter, and in July of last year, an administrative law judge sided with Google and said the request was “unduly burdensome.”

Now there is a revised gender-pay class action lawsuit against Google that adds a complainant and says Google asked people for their prior salaries before hiring them, according to TechCrunch. California recently passed a law that doesn’t allow employers to ask applicants about their previous salaries. If someone discloses that information without being asked, the employer is not supposed to consider it when deciding how much they should be paid. On Friday, the class action moved forward with a hearing in San Francisco.

Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano told TechCrunch in January, “We disagree with the central allegations of this amended lawsuit … We work really hard to create a great workplace for everyone, and to give everyone the chance to thrive here.”

Across the world, employees are showing Google they disagree.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

You do not have a constitutional right to be extremely sexist at work

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

A male software engineer at Google, James Damore, wrote a 10-page memo in opposition to hiring practices that consider racial and gender diversity in tech, arguing that women were unable to do the same kind of work as their male peers. Days after it was circulated throughout the company and leaked to the press, he was fired.

Now many journalists, activists, and even politicians are arguing that he was unfairly punished for expressing his ideas, with some going so far as to say the employee was banished for “thought crimes.”

In this case, Damore’s thoughts were that women were biologically unsuited for advancement in tech in a number of ways and that women deserved their current status. In his anti-diversity screed, the software engineer decided to list personality traits that he says women have more of. Here is one:

Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance).This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.

He also wrote that women have “higher agreeableness” and “extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness,” and that this is why women tend to have a harder time negotiating salary. He does not acknowledge that research shows again and again there is a social cost for women who negotiate for higher salaries.

In addition to saying that women will always have these specific qualities that prevent them from advancing in their careers, he flat out writes, “We need to stop assuming that gender gaps imply sexism.”

He also wrote, “However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices.” He listed mentoring, programs, and classes “only for people with a certain gender or race.”

Men from all sides of the political spectrum weighed in to argue that he should not have been fired.

U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) tweeted out a National Review article with the headline, “Google Fires Employee Who Dared Challenge its Ideological Echo Chamber.” Julian Assange condemned the decision as “censorship.” Tim Miller, co-founder of the America Rising PAC, said Damore is being banished for “thought crimes.” Jeet Heer, senior editor at The New Republic, said the engineer should not have been fired for his ideas.

The engineer’s decision to write a 10-page memo, which he clearly spent a good deal of time writing, and then share that memo, is an action, however, not merely a thought.

In a Medium post, Yonatan Zunger, a former Google employee, explained why the memo was enough to create a hostile workplace environment and thus warranted termination.

Do you understand that at this point, I could not in good conscience assign anyone to work with you? I certainly couldn’t assign any women to deal with this, a good number of the people you might have to work with may simply punch you in the face, and even if there were a group of like-minded individuals I could put you with, nobody would be able to collaborate with them. You have just created a textbook hostile workplace environment.

Research shows that frequent and less intense but unchallenged sexist discrimination and organizational climates were similarly harmful to women’s well-being as more overt but less frequent acts of sexism, like sexual coercion. Heer suggested demotion as an alternative to firing but no matter his position, Damore would have some power over his co-workers since Google’s performance review process allows peer reviewers to give feedback on job performance. This includes employees who are junior to them.

Viewed this way, the decision to fire Damore was not censorship. It was a decision to protect women from a hostile workplace environment. Google prioritized the well-being of its workers and the company’s overall success over one man’s career.

Like most of the tech industry, Google employees are predominantly white men. In April, the Department of Labor accused the organization of “extreme” gender pay discrimination and pointed to evidence of “systemic compensation disparities.” Diversity statistics the company released last month revealed that 69 percent of its employees are male and 31 percent are female, but when it comes to technical roles, only 19 percent of the positions are held by women.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on August 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Lyft releases its first-ever diversity report

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

Lyft has produced its first-ever diversity report, months after its chief competitor Uber released its own data about the make-up of its staff.

While its numbers ring similar to other tech companies—which are predominantly white and male?—?Lyft does have more female employees than Uber. Overall, 42 percent of Lyft’s employees identify as women, compared to Uber’s 36 percent.

Lyft, however, is more white than Uber with 63 percent white employees opposed to Uber’s 49 percent. Uber bested Lyft by having a better representation of Asian, black, and Latinx employees overall, with 30 percent, 8 percent, and 5 percent respectively?—?compared to 19 percent, 6 percent, and 7 percent for Lyft.

All of those numbers shrink considerably for tech and leadership roles. At Lyft, only 18 percent and 13 percent of its tech staff and leadership respectively are women. There are no black people in tech leadership roles while Latinx leaders make up just 4 percent. Thirty-four percent of tech leaders at Lyft are Asian while the remainder, 59 percent, are white.

In a blog post releasing the inaugural report, Lyft said releasing diversity data will help keep the company accountable.

[W]e have a lot of work to do. Releasing our data will hold us accountable, but it’s the actions we take that will make a difference to the people who come to work every day at Lyft. Our diversity data exposes gaps in important areas. So we’re doing something about it.

The diversity report comes on the heels of Uber’s, which released its numbers following a massive sexual harassment scandal earlier this year. Lyft hasn’t had such a scandal but its numbers, which can be improved all around, suggest that it’s doing much better on gender representation than race and ethnicity.

Tech companies in general, however, have struggled to improve their diversity numbers in spite of releasing transparency reports. For example, Apple has previously called improving diversity “unduly burdensome” and recently shot down a proposal to diversify its all-white board led by CEO Tim Cook. Even Google, which started the diversity report trend in 2014, hasn’t been able to solve its race and gender diversity?—?and retention?—?problems.

Along with the its diversity report, Lyft mentioned its hiring of Tariq Meyers, formerly the company’s community organizer, in 2016 to lead its diversity and inclusion efforts as well as its partnership with the diversity strategy firm Paradigm.

“We’re investing in more programs and taking stronger actions,” the company wrote. “Being a culture of inclusion requires continuous, purposeful work. And it’s work that we must do. Because Lyft is for everyone: no matter who are you, where you come from, or which seat you’re sitting in.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lauren Williams is a tech reporter at ThinkProgress.

Tech Companies Ordered To Pay Employees $415 Million For Working Together To Lower Wages

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Lauren WilliamsA U.S. District Court finalized a $415 million wage settlement for tech workers Wednesday after four-years of litigation.

Nearly 65,000 employees for Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit in 2011 after the government uncovered emails between Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and other executives that showed companies conspired to not poach one another’s employees in an effort to keep salaries low and reduce turnover.

Judge Lucy Koh of the United States District Court, Northern District of California, who signed off on the settlement, tossed out a previous $325 million agreement earlier this year because it was too low. The companies appealed the decision and then submitted a $415 million offer.

The companies will pay out the settlement to 64,466 plaintiffs listing in the suit according to individual worker’s base salaries between 2005 and 2009, the time period covered during the email exchanges.

Koh will lead a final hearing Thursday to close the matter.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on September 03, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Lauren C. Williams. Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

Google and the Truth

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerRecently I had a chance to interview a former top executive for Google. She was wicked smart, insightful and clearly thought three or four steps ahead.

I kept grilling her about what the average person should know about online searches. We spent a lot of time on such topics as phrasing the searches correctly, a series of tricks you can use to make for a better search (for example putting quotation marks around the key words) and a variety of tools that Google has to help that most people don’t know anything about.

Then she dropped her bombshell. I was asking her what is the one thing that we don’t understand about Google searches. Okay, it was what I consider a fishing expedition question. An outrageously open ended question that 10% of the time generated an interesting insight, but far more often gave me a chance to catch my breath and think of anything else I needed to ask before the end of the interview.

Even though I heard her answer, I made her repeat it twice. Okay, I think that’s just about enough buildup.

“Google searches aren’t about the truth, they’re about what’s popular.”

Google has fancy algorithms that simply scour the web to see what is the most popular site in terms of the search that you requested. Most popular.

It’s as if your high school math teacher didn’t give you a positive grade for the correct answer to a problem, the highest grade went to whoever predicted what the rest of the class would pick for their answer.

Popularity contests work great for high school homecoming contests, political races and impulse purchases at the counter of a grocery store. But for our information based economy, betting our entire future on what’s popular is risky. Heck, it’s dangerous.

Google is clearly popular. The question for the rest of us is can the company consistently get it right?

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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