On Tuesday, more than 900 Google workers signed a letter urging the company to respect its contracted labour. As tech workers continue to call out unfair labour practices in the industry, they’re forming a coalition with contractors to acknowledge the rights of about half of Google’s workforce.
The letter comes at a time when contractors are being laid off and treated as virtually non-existent.
“We’re the Personality Team,” a draft of the letter supplied to Gizmodo states. “We’re responsible for the voice of Google — the Google Assistant — across the world. We are the human labour that makes the Assistant relevant, funny, and relatable in more than 50 languages.”
On March 8, about 80 per cent of the 43-person Personality Team were informed that their contracts would expire within the next month, and by July for some, according to the letter. This team was made up of temporary, vendor or contract employees (known as TVCs).
They wrote in the letter that contradictory to their senior manager’s assurance that they don’t need to worry about their contracts, layoffs started happening at Google offices around the world.
The letter goes on to describe the bleak internal energy as contractors were notified—according to the letter, in group calls rather than one-on-one for some—that their contracts were unexpectedly nullified. “During the process, our managers and the full-time workers on our team were silent,” the letter states.
“Google told them that offering support or even thanking us for years of work would make the company legally liable. Our teammates were told to distance themselves from us at the moment when we were most in need — just so Google could avoid legal responsibility.”
Given previous reports on how Google treats its contracted workforce, this is hardly surprising. Internal Google training documents obtained by the Guardian last year, titled “The ABCs of TVCs,” served as a guide for how full-time employees should separate themselves from the temporary workforce.
“Working with TVCs and Googlers is different,” the documents reportedly stated. “Our policies exist because TVC working arrangements can carry significant risks.” The training document then advises Google employees to leave TVCs out of certain team meetings and to avoid giving them gifts like a Google shirt.
And after the massive Google walkout last year, in which workers demanded an improved process for reporting harassment and discrimination, contract workers still described a process that, for them specifically, was still confusing. CEO Sundar Pichai sent an email to Google employees following the walkout to inform them of the demands the company would meet, but a contractor told Gizmodo at that time that TVCs were excluded from that communication and weren’t allowed to be in the room during the all-hands meeting.
“I had to read it in the press rather than directly from the CEO whose company I have worked for this past year,” a contractor told Gizmodo.
Given this second-class treatment, the demands outlined in the letter on Tuesday can best be boiled down to improvements around human decency. The TVCs ask that Google “Respect our contracts” by paying for the remaining length of the shortened contracts, “Respect our humanity” by permitting full-time employees to empathise with and express gratitude to them, and “Respect our work” by converting them to full-time employees.
Throughout the process of Google workers mounting collective action over the last several months, contractors have continued to be included alongside the fight for better working conditions, not as a footnote, and not as disposable, as Google appears to treat them.
“The fight isn’t contract workers against full-time workers, the fight is workers against the company,” Rachel Miller, a contractor on the Personality Team whose contract was scheduled to expire March 26 prior to the layoffs, told the Guardian. “We’re all unfairly treated if one of us is.”
We have reached out to Google on whether it will meet the demands listed in Tuesday’s letter and will update with a response.