Over the last two decades, Google has become one of the most successful companies on Earth—and one of the world’s great model employers, to boot. The Google brand has become synonymous with everything workers want in a job, including great pay, solid benefits, and a positive, vibrant culture in which employees can thrive. Lately, though, we’ve begun to see mounting evidence that all those positives aren’t for everyone.
According to new reporting from the New York Times, the company is largely powered by a “shadow work force” that doesn’t get all the positive benefits of being a “true” Googler. As of March, Google had roughly 121,000 people on staff who were temporary and/or contract employees, and only 102,000 full-time people. The temps often work side by side with full-timers, but they aren’t hired directly by the company and they often receive less money, different benefits plans, and no paid vacation time, at least in the United States.
This has become a common practice, not just at Google but across Silicon Valley, and it’s leading to a culture of resentment in which the “haves” in the workplace clash with the “have-nots.”
“It’s creating a caste system inside companies,” OnContracting’s Pradeep Chauhan told the Times.
It’s not just basic issues like pay and benefits that have caused issues between Google and its temporary employees; there are more serious problems as well. For example, the Times reported that San Francisco-based Google temp Mindy Cruz said she was fired in 2017 because she had a manager who harassed her for months, and the manager got rid of her when she rejected his advances. Labor advocates have tried to fight with Google for better treatment of the temp workforce, but that movement has yet to make significant progress.
Google claims that it’s trying, though. Eileen Naughton, the company’s vice president of people operations, told the Times that she’s working on changing a number of policies that should improve conditions for temps and contract employees. She also said that when these team members have problems, she wants them to have the freedom to come forward.
“[If a contingent worker] is not having a good experience, we provide lots of ways to report complaints or express concerns,” Naughton said. “We investigate, we hold individuals to account, and we work to make things right for any person impacted.”
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