Google employees have flocked to internal message boards to demand fair treatment and full-time status for the company’s sizable population of temporary and contract workers, in what two current employees described to Business Insider as a growing sense of “solidarity” between the tech giant’s overall workforce as of late.
The search giant has come under sharp criticism over the past year for its widespread practice of hiring so-called TVCs — temporary, vendor, and contract workers. TVCs now account for the majority of Google’s overall workforce, The New York Times reported. As of March, Google reportedly had around 121,000 TVCs in total, compared to 102,000 full-time employees.
The employees told Business Insider that internal discussions on the treatment of TVCs were sparked by a recent letter sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai by ten US Senators — including 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. In part, that letter urged Google to begin transitioning temporary workers to full-time employees after being with the company for six months.
“Making these changes to your company’s employment practices will ensure equal treatment of all Google works and put an end to the two-tier employment structure you have perpetuated,” the letter read, as first reported by The New York Times.
On internal message boards, one current Googler said that employees are questioning the company’s response to the Senators’ letter, which was penned by Eileen Naughton, Google’s VP of People Operations. In that response, Naughton said Google complied with the “highest industry standards” in regards to the treatment of its temporary and contract workers. You can read Naughton’s full letter below.
But employees are saying that’s not enough.
“Google shouldn’t do the bare minimum to be barely better or the same as the industry. Of course, that is not satisfactory for many of us,” the current employee told Business Insider. “Google has the capability of setting and advancing industry standards.”
TVCs are typically paid less for carrying out the same job as their full-time counterparts, don’t receive the same level of perks (like free lunch and transportation to the office), and in some cases, are still subject to forced-arbitration clauses in their employment contracts that the company retroactively nullified for full-time employees.
Google says it’s making strides and that by 2022, it will require a certain baseline set of benefits for its contract workers and vendors, including comprehensive healthcare and paid parental leave. By 2020, it will require vendor employers in the US to start paying workers a $15 minimum wage. Also, on its most recent earnings call in July, the company said some of its increased headcount came from converting some contractors in “support functions” to full-time employees — meaning efforts to transition its temporary staff may already be underway.
Still, employees within Google are objecting to the company’s main reasoning for employing a temporary workforce — which has been to remain flexible and only bring on help during projects when needed.
“Most employees understand that the company may want some flexibility in some roles that are inherently temporary,” that current employee said. “But it seems impossible to justify having more than 50% [of the overall workforce] be temporary workers due to ‘flexibility.'”
Solidarity is growing
Temp workers and full-timers have had a history of banding to together — most prominently during the November walkouts when the two groups marched together and demanded, in part, better treatment for TVCs. These current employees say the recent letter from Senators has reinvigorated the collective action.
“The solidarity from full-time employees with temp workers are growing as of late,” one of the current employees said.
“[There’s] enthusiasm that the company is being held accountable,” said the other.
One of these Googlers tells us that the timing of this pushback on the treatment of their TVC counterparts comes as a mix between the “right thing to do” and a fear that Google will use its model for temporary workers as a way of limiting workplace rights moving forward.
“Eventually we could all have as few rights as the employee with the least rights,” the employee said. “There’s no reason why Google couldn’t decide to hire more software engineers as temps to limit their ability to, for instance, protest company policies.”
Read Google VP of People Eileen Naughton’s full response letter to US Senators:
Thank you for your letter inquiring about our workforce.
We are proud to create economic opportunities for both the people we employ directly and our extended workforce of vendors, temporary staff, and independent contractors, and believe that our practices in this regard accord with the highest industry standards. Respectfully, we strongly disagree with any suggestion that Google misuses independent contractors or temporary workers.
To explain our extended workforce, I’d like to lay out the different ways we engage with various types of workers, as these categories represent different types of expertise and address different business needs.
Google engages only a handful of independent contractors, mainly when we want to bring in highly specialized expertise that a particular individual holds – e.g., scientists with certain specialized domain knowledge. Independent contractors comprise 0.5% of our total workforce and we independently vet all of our independent contractors to ensure they meet the requirements of a 1099 worker.
Temporary workers comprise 3% of our total workforce, and do the job of a full-time Google employee but for a short period of time, working on temporary projects, addressing quick needs in business, incubating special projects, or covering for employees who may be on short-term leave, like parental or sick leave. If a project develops in a way that requires long-term support, then we open up headcount for a full-time Google position and anyone – including members of our extended workforce – may apply for the role and go through the same hiring process as any other qualified candidate. Being a temporary worker is not intended to be a path to employment at Google, and because we want to be clear and upfront, this is a part of our written policies and the training that all Google employees managing temporary staff must take.
Vendors account for the majority of our extended workforce. We’ve found that sometimes work is best done by Google employees and sometimes it’s best done by specialized companies that have particular expertise and can offer a career path to their employees. At Google, vendors often work in fields that require significant training and expertise outside Google’s core areas of focus — for example, in areas like cafe operations, medical care, construction, transportation or physical security. Most employers in almost every industry in the United States, including the U.S. Government, routinely use vendors in areas where they don’t have expertise and resources.
We’re proud to work with leading vendor companies that are regularly recognized as top employers in their fields. Google has recently mandated a minimum standard for wages and benefits for the vendor companies we work with. By the beginning of next year, vendors will need to provide their U.S. workers – at a minimum – with a $15/hour minimum wage, and by January 1, 2022, these companies will need to provide their U.S. workers at least 12 weeks of paid family leave, eight days of paid sick leave, $5000/year in tuition reimbursement, and comprehensive healthcare that must be valued at the ACA’s “Gold” level or above, though we expect the majority of our temporary staff and vendors to be covered by this standard by mid-2020.
We care about everyone working at Google or on Google-related projects – employees, vendors, temporary staff and contractors alike – and we’re happy to meet with your staff to discuss these issues further.
Eileen Naughton, Vice President, People Operations