More than 20,000 Google employees walked out of 40 offices around the world last week after a NYTimes article detailed the company’s actions shielding executives accused of sexual misconduct. The organizers demanded concrete changes such as a new system for reporting abuse and an employee representative on the company’s board. Google employees are using collective bargaining without traditional union representation as part of the recent surge in tech worker unrest.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai has responded to some of their demands by outlining how the company will:
- Eliminate forced arbitration for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims
- Offer more transparency around those investigations
- Allow workers to bring representatives to meetings with HR
However, the company has not addressed all of the organizers demands such as:
- Having its chief diversity officer report directly to Pichai
- Adding an employee representative to the board of directors
- Making its internal report on harassment public
In a Medium post on November 8, the organizers continued to press their core demands including elevating the diversity officer, employee board representation, and addressing issues of inequality between full time employees and contract workers. Contract workers make up more than half of Google’s workforce, but receive few of the benefits associated with tech company employment.
As organizer Demma Rodriguez put it, “The process by which we build a truly equitable culture must center the voices of black women, immigrants, and people of color — those who too often pay the most in the face of these intersecting problems. We are committed to making this happen, because true equity depends on it.”
The post ended with, “We look forward to meeting with Google leadership in working to meet all of our demands.”
- Walkout organizers identified their action with a broader worker struggle, “This is part of a growing movement, not just in tech, but across the country, including teachers, fast-food workers and others who are using their strength in numbers to make real change.”
- “The myth of Silicon Valley is that all the power you need is embodied in you as an individual — if you want more money, go somewhere else,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California, Berkeley. “What they were saying here was that all the economic power they had as individuals wasn’t enough.”
- Michelle Miller, co-founder of CoWorker.org, a labor rights educator, said that employees at Google “had to start thinking of themselves as some kind of collective” last year after a memo by an employee asserted that women tend to be innately less capable of certain technical work.
Quests and Actions (Q&A):
- How do corporate values and organizational culture need to evolve to be more transparent and in-touch with employee concerns and rights?
- Tech companies are competing for employees. If employees at other tech companies observe and are impressed by the employee activism at Google, will they follow suit and make changes too?
- What can Google leadership do to strike a balance between employee demands and corporate objectives?