Contract workers at Google are asking CEO Sundar Pichai for equal treatment, dignity, and some respect.
On Wednesday, a group of workers known as TVCs (temporary, vendor, and contract workers), sent a scathing letter to Pichai, accusing the tech company of creating a segregated workforce, in which contract workers get paid less and get far fewer benefits than full-time employees who do the same work.
Because contract workers are more likely to be people of color, they say that the dynamic reinforces “a system of institutional racism, sexism, and discrimination.”
The letter, which was shared with Vox, was signed simply by the “TVCs at Google,” so it’s unclear how many workers feel that way. But contractors now make up a huge part of Google’s workforce — from engineers to marketing staff to cafeteria employees. Google has hired so many contractors in recent years that they now outnumber full-time employees, according to Bloomberg (the company has about 90,000 full-time employees).
The temporary workers, who are employed by subcontracting firms but work in Google’s offices, said they wear different-colored badges and are often shut out of meetings and denied information needed to do their jobs.
“It is clear that we will continue to be mistreated and ignored if we stay silent,” they wrote in the letter. “Google has the power — and the money — to ensure that we are treated equitably, with respect and dignity.”
Google declined to comment on the letter or tell Vox how many contractors work at the company.
Though Google is hardly the only US company to employ a large workforce of contractors, the sheer size of the company and its temporary workforce points to a larger, problematic trend within the US economy: Too many tech companies are trying to boost profit margins by hiring contractors whom they pay less and who receive fewer benefits than full-time employees on their payroll.
Thousands of workers at Google don’t get paid sick days or company perks
Google and other Silicon Valley tech companies are known for their generous employee perks. Employees get catered parties, stock options, and substantial amounts of paid time off and parental leave. But less discussed has been the company’s reliance on contract workers, which Bloomberg describes as a “shadow workforce” that does all the grunt work for less compensation. They wear red badges, while full-time employees wear white badges.
It’s worth reading Bloomberg’s entire article on the subject. But here are a few paragraphs that capture the dynamic, and why employees believe it’s problematic:
Before each weekly Google all-hands meeting, trays of hors d’oeuvres and, sometimes, kegs of beer are carted into an auditorium and satellite offices around the globe for employees, who wear white badges. Those without white badges are asked to return to their desks.
Google’s Alphabet Inc. employs hordes of these red-badged contract workers in addition to its full-fledged staff. They serve meals and clean offices. They write code, handle sales calls, recruit staff, screen YouTube videos, test self-driving cars and even manage entire teams – a sea of skilled laborers that fuel the $795 billion company but reap few of the benefits and opportunities available to direct employees.
In their letter, contract workers expressed anger about this setting, saying it creates an underclass within Google’s workforce. They also say it puts their safety at risk.
“When the tragic shooting occurred at YouTube in April of this year, the company sent real-time security updates to full-time employees only, leaving TVCs defenseless in the line of fire. TVCs were then excluded from a town hall discussion the following day,” they wrote in the letter.
The perceived mistreatment of contract workers was one reason that 20,000 Google employees and TVCs walked off the job last month at Google offices across the world. They were also angry about a New York Times article published in October detailing how Google paid millions of dollars in exit packages to male executives accused of sexual harassment, while staying silent about the misconduct.
The company has also sparked ire over recent news that it has been developing a secret, censored search engine for internet users in China —a tool that could enable government spying on dissidents. The company has downplayed concerns about the project, dubbed Dragonfly, but Pichai is expected to address concerns about the venture at a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Though Google has brushed off criticism about Dragonfly, the company did respond to some complaints employees raised during the walkout.
As part of the protest, workers demanded the company make changes to address sexual harassment and discrimination. While Google did agree to make some alterations to its sexual harassment policies, none of the changes included TVC workers, and the company ignored concerns about discrimination against contract workers, who are more likely to be people of color.
Google’s response didn’t sit well with the employees who organized the walkout. They criticized Google for ignoring the TVC workforce, calling it a “modern Jim Crow class system.” Now contractors are raising their voices too.
You can read the entire text of the letter, which TVCs sent to Pichai on Wednesday, below:
As you know, 20,000 full-time and temporary, vendor, and contract workers (TVCs), recently walked out to protest “discrimination, racism, sexual harassment and a workplace culture that only works for some.” As TVCs who took equal part in the walkout, your silence has been deafening.
Google’s mission is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” But the company fails to meet this standard within its own workplace. Google routinely denies TVCs access to information that is relevant to our jobs and our lives. When the tragic shooting occurred at YouTube in April of this year, the company sent real-time security updates to full-time employees only, leaving TVCs defenseless in the line of fire. TVCs were then excluded from a town hall discussion the following day. And when 20,000 full-time and TVC Google employees walked out to demand equal treatment for all workers, TVCs were again excluded from the company-wide discussion held a week later.
The exclusion of TVCs from important communications and fair treatment is part of a system of institutional racism, sexism, and discrimination. TVCs are disproportionately people from marginalized groups who are treated as less deserving of compensation, opportunities, workplace protections, and respect. We wear different badges from full-time employees, which reinforces this arbitrary and discriminatory separation. Even when we’re doing the same work as full-time employees, these jobs routinely fail to provide living wages and often offer minimal benefits. This affects not only us, but also our families and communities.
Google has been taking in record profits every quarter, with $9.2 billion in the last quarter alone. This money comes from the hard work of every single one of us, TVC and full-time alike. Google has been increasingly hiring TVCs rather than full-time employees for all types of roles, resulting in a majority TVC workforce. We do essential work, from marketing, to running engineering teams, to feeding you and the rest of the Google staff — all without fair benefits or recognition. Google cannot function without us.
The excessive and unclear rules surrounding TVCs, in addition to the constant fear of our contracts not being renewed, makes it difficult for us to speak out. However, it is clear that we will continue to be mistreated and ignored if we stay silent. Google has the power — and the money — to ensure that we are treated equitably, with respect and dignity.
As we stated during the walkout, we need transparency, accountability, and structural change to ensure equity for all Google workers. We reiterate the demands of the walkout, and make it clear that meeting these demands for all of us requires:
An end to pay and opportunity inequity for TVCs. We demand better pay and access to benefits that meet the full-time employee standard, including high-quality healthcare, paid vacations, paid sick days, holiday pay, family leave, and bonuses. This must also include a consistent and transparent conversion process to full-time employment, as well as adoption of a single badge color for all workers.
Access to company-wide information on the same terms as full-time employees. We want access to town hall discussions; all communications about safety, discrimination, and sexual misconduct; and a reinstatement of our access to internal forums like Google Groups. This must also include career growth, classes, and counseling opportunities like those offered to full-time workers.
TVCs at Google