Google workers demand back pay for temps company underpaid for years

More than 140 workers sign petition decrying ‘massive moral failing’ following Guardian revelations

Google employees and subcontracted workers are demanding that the company pay back wages to temporary workers, following a Guardian report that revealed Google had knowingly and illegally underpaid thousands of temps for years.

More than 140 workers have signed a petition addressed to Google executives calling on the company to “immediately pay back all Temps, Vendors and Contractors (TVCs) who have been knowingly underpaid by Google” and to “create an immediate path to permanent employment for temporary workers and end its two-tiered perma-temp system”.

“Google’s deliberate exploitation of TVCs is a massive moral failing,” the letter reads. “For much of Google’s workforce, ‘Don’t be evil’ is a smokescreen. It’s a way to reap the financial rewards of unquestioning public faith, by assuring investors, users and government entities that Google is trustworthy and friendly – while successfully underpaying and mistreating the majority of their workers.”

The letter, which began circulating inside Google on Wednesday, was organized by the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), a minority union affiliated with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) that formed in January 2021 and counts more than 800 members in the US and Canada. The AWU intends to organize both among Google’s direct employees, which number more than 140,000 worldwide, and its vast “shadow workforce” of more than 150,000 subcontracted workers, known internally as TVCs.

On Friday, the Guardian revealed that Google had been violating pay parity laws in the UK, continental Europe and Asia that require temporary workers be paid rates equal to those of full-time employees performing similar work. While most of Google’s TVCs are considered vendors, thousands of temps in dozens of countries are protected by local laws requiring pay parity.

In May 2019, company executives realized that the “comparator” data that Google was providing to staffing agencies had not been updated for years, resulting in the company paying temps at rates between 12% and 50% lower than what was required by law.

Rather than immediately address the issue, executives delayed taking action out of concern for the company’s reputation and the increased costs to Google departments that rely heavily on temps, documents and emails reviewed by the Guardian show.

At one point, Google executives pursued a plan to adjust the rates only for new hires – at an increased annual cost of $17.3m – while leaving incumbent and previously employed temps in the dark about their lost wages, despite acknowledging that such a plan was not “the correct outcome from a compliance perspective”.

Google on Friday acknowledged the failures and said it was conducting a review of its compliance practices and was “committed to identifying and addressing any pay discrepancies that the team has not already addressed”.

“We’re going to figure out what went wrong here, why it happened, and we’re going to make it right,” the company’s chief compliance officer, Spyro Karetsos, said in a statement.

Shannon Wait, a member of AWU who worked as a temp at a Google data center from February 2019 to February 2021, said that the problems with Google’s use of temp workers extended beyond the pay parity issue.

“The job that I was doing and that so many people do for Google at data centers is not temporary work,” she said. “It is permanent work that Google staffs with contractors because it’s cheaper.

“I was not surprised but I was disappointed that Google would go so far as to cheat workers out of their hard-earned pay in countries across the planet,” she added. “This wouldn’t have happened if they just had a higher standard for employment practices to begin with, meaning that full-time employees were doing these roles.”

The pay parity issue is just the latest labor dispute to roil Google’s activist employee base. In recent years, employees at the company have organized and protested over its handling of sexual harassment cases, its plans for a censored search engine for China, its contract with the US department of defense to provide technology for drones, its treatment of TVCs, and allegations that it retaliated against worker activists.

The AWU is one result of that unrest. In its petition, the group called for an end to Google’s “two-tiered workforce”.

“The second tier of 130,000 Temps, Vendors and Contractors (TVCs) are underpaid, frequently only offered unaffordable healthcare by contracting companies, and barred from Google-sponsored events,” the letter reads.

“Unbeknownst to the public, TVCs can even be fired for publicly claiming that they work for Google … Google has the resources to treat all workers equally but it chooses not to do so in favor of further hoarding its already-astronomical financial resources … We demand that Google create an immediate path to permanent employment for temporary workers and end its two-tiered perma-temp system.”

Google declined to comment directly on the petition, but provided a link to a blogpost it published about the pay parity issue on Friday.


Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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