Google’s mammoth Contingent Workforce plan going up in smoke?

There is a sh*tstorm happening in the world of Contingent Labour at the moment. Google (USA) is facing mounting pressure from their TVC workforce (Temp, Vendor, Contractor), Congress and several Presidential hopefuls to convert their enormous Contingent Workforce to permanent.
Here is what we know:

  • Google hires 121,000 TVCs and 102,000 full-time employees (as at March 2019);
  • It has been reported that TVCs earn significantly less than permanent counterparts;
  • TVCs also lack the benefit and rights;
  • By barring TVCs from things like events, meetings and the cafeteria, Google are trying to make it clear that the worker doesn’t have an employment relationship with Google but at the same time it causes massive cultural divides and has created an underclass of worker.

So how did it make its way to Congress and possibly to next President of the United States?

  • It all started when Google laid off 30+ members of its voice assistant team and advised they would not be honouring the remainder of their contracts;
  • In response, the affected workers sent a letter to Google with 900 signatures asking that they pay out the remainder of their contracts, allow full time staff to acknowledge the work they did and convert remaining TVC’s to permanent employees;
  • At the same time other Google TVC’s reported the culture to be a white collar sweatshop where the pressure to complete assignments was “immense”, workload was high and there was a strong expectation never to raise a timesheet for more than 40 hours.

Several Senators (including three Presidential hopefuls) joined forces and wrote this intense letter pressuring Google CEO, Sundar Pichai to make the following changes:

  • Automatic transition from temporary worker to permanent full-time Google employee after six months;
  • Prohibition of financial disincentives — including “conversion fees” stipulated by staffing agencies in contracts with Google — for transitioning a temporary worker to permanent Google employee;
  • Wage and benefit parity for independent contractors, temporary workers and permanent full-time employees;
  • Disclosure to temporary workers at the start of their work on a Google contract about their status and when they can expect to transition to permanent full-time employee status;
  • Limitations on the use of independent contractors and temporary workers to temporary or non-core work that is not already performed by full-time employees;
  • Prohibition of mandatory nondisclosure agreements about the terms and conditions of employment, including in temporary workers’ contracts with their staffing agencies;
  • Elimination of all non-compete clauses in all employment contracts, including in temporary workers’ contracts with their staffing agencies;
  • Google acceptance of liability for any workplace violations that occur with temporary workers or independent contractors.

The Senators also noted Google’s current value of $100 billion and the CEO’s personal compensation $400 million in 2018 and saw it as a responsibility for Google to help grow the Middle Class.
They are also rightly concerned about abuses of independent contractors and temporary workers including inappropriate advances. But what is the Senate doing to protect workers? If you are a freelancer or Contract worker in the US, you have fewer legal rights compared to employees as workplace civil rights laws do not apply to them.

Google’s response:
  • Google says that it does not mistreat contractors and that being a temporary worker is not supposed to be a path to a full-time job
  • Google has since reviewed their policies and announced that all companies that employ U.S. vendors and temporary staff will need to provide by 2020,“12 weeks of parental leave, at least eight sick days, and a USD$15/hour minimum wage in order to do business with Google. They have until 2022 to provide comprehensive healthcare.
Has Google done the wrong thing?

It really appears they have done all they can to become the enemy of just about everybody. Yet, did they just get away with what US law allows them to? Their Company Values include “You can make money without doing evil” which may have been updated more recently to “Do the right thing; don’t be evil”.
If the reports are all true and you look at just how far they have pushed things, then I can’t see where their decision making holds up against their values.
For the 34 TVC’s that were laid off, it is reported that “During the process, our managers and the full-time workers on our team were silent. 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 that Google could avoid legal responsibility.”

Has Google done anything illegal?

I have no idea. There’s plenty of reports about TVP conditions but they aren’t employees. Many of them are employed through outside firms like Adecco and Cognizant.

Who manages Google’s Contingent Workforce?

I googled (I know…!) and found this job ad so presumably it is managed in-house.

Long term

Currently there is some collective agitation going on which could possibly result in the creation of a Union. Kickstarter staff recently announced their plans to unionise (although Kickstarter’s CEO said they would not voluntarily recognise the Union). If successful, they will be the first major tech company with union representation in the US.
Back to Google. I read a tweet that said “it means continuing to place equity concerns at the centre of organising, and including TVCs at the helm of decision-making — the company (and “the future of work”) is moving in a direction where soon everyone but upper management will be a TVC.” 

Final questions for you

If a successful Contingent Workforce is one that is quality, repeatable, predictable and legally compliant, well…didn’t Google achieve that? Therefore, what else do we need to take into account?
The Contingent Workforce is steadily growing here in Australia, how prepared are we in dealing with similar and emerging issues?
It is said that “the fire that burns others, warms us”. At the upcoming Contingent Workforce event, we will be sharing more on the ongoing Google story, as well as some real-life Contingent cautionary tales from some of Australia’s biggest brands. Sign up for more information and updates on the event here.
Cover image: Shutterstock

🍿 Fill in this short Contingent Workforce Survey and you will have the chance to win a Gold Class Movie Experience (including food and drinks worht $159!) for two! 🍿

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