A memo circulating inside Google accuses the company of not protecting its army of contract workers from the coronavirus pandemic

A memo circulating inside Google accuses the company of not protecting its army of contract workers from the coronavirus pandemic
google ceo sundar pichai alphabet

REUTERS/Denis Balibouse


Sundar Pichai, Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet

  • Google workers are raising concerns internally about the company's treatment of contract workers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In an internal memo seen by Business Insider, workers are demanding that Google contract workers are given assurances around pay and are not forced to go to company offices unless absolutely necessary.
  • "When it comes to our 'extended workforce,' Google and its contracting agencies are falling short," the memo authors wrote.
  • Contract workers based in Pittsburgh - which has declared a state of emergency - staged an internal protest on Monday because they had to continue coming into the office.

A group of Google employees are challenging the company's treatment of contract workers amid the corona virus outbreak, contending that safety measures designed to protect employees from infection exclude the army of temporary and contract workers that perform vital tasks for the search giant.

On Tuesday, a list of demands written by Google workers began circulating internally that calls for better protections for contract workers at the $772 billion company and asks for greater clarity over Google's policies, Business Insider has learned.

The letter cites contract workers for Google at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania office who were required to continue to come into the office even after Google encouraged its regular, full-time employees to work remotely. The Pittsburgh workers, employed by contractor HCL Technologies, protested on Monday by wearing black to the office cafeteria.


"We know that leadership clearly values the health and safety of our workplaces and communities," a group of Google workers wrote in the document that circulated internally on Tuesday. "But when it comes to our 'extended workforce,' Google and its contracting agencies are falling short."

Google has around 119,000 employees throughout the world - and a similar number of temporary workers, contractors, and external vendors (TVCs). Google's policies on TVCs have proved immensely contentious over the last few years, with critics complaining they amount to a "second-class" workforce denied the perks and privileges afforded to proper Google employees.

As COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus) has spread, sickening more than 181,000 people and killing more than 7,500, Google has taken steps to enable its workforce to work remotely and lock down its facilities. But some employees are concerned that the company's efforts don't do enough for TVC workers.

"We're working closely with all our vendor partners to increase the ability for their employees to work from home by rolling out remote access as quickly as possible," Google spokesperson Jenn Kaiser said in an email to Business Insider. "HCL employees in Google Pittsburgh were approved for remote access today and no HCL employees will be required to come into the Pittsburgh office starting tomorrow."

"No one should be in a Google office unless absolutely necessary."

The memo's writers - who describe themselves as "a coalition of employees and TVCs who want Google to be Googley - issued two demands: That "no one should be in a Google office unless absolutely necessary," and that "every employee of [Google's parent company] Alphabet, whether direct or contracted, must have complete confidence they can stay home with no disruption to pay."


The memo highlighted the office in Pittsburgh, which has contract workers from HCL: "Workers who are contracted through HCL were expected to come into work this week, despite Pittsburgh declaring a state of emergency, closing its schools, and urging non-essential businesses to close." (Earlier in March, The Washington Post also published a story detailing concerns by HCL workers about its policies.)

These HCL workers recently unionized, and their union tweeted a photo of a worker protest against the coronavirus policies in the company cafeteria on Monday.

The memo writers are also asking TVCs at Google to share their experiences around the company's coronavirus policies, though it is not clear how widely circulated the memo has been or how many responses it has elicited.

"Google has recommended that all North American workers work from home ... but entire offices full of TVCs have no yet had their remote access requests approved, and they are asked to come into the office while this is pending," they wrote.

"Google has promised that if offices close, workers without remote access will be compensated for the hours they would have worked. But offices have not closed ... TVCs are increasingly being forced to chose between risking infection by going to work, or losing wages."


In a statement, HCL spokesperson Meenakshi Benjwal said: "HCL employs close to 150,000 people worldwide and 20,000 in the United States and our employee's health and safety is our top priority. We are taking an abundance of caution by deploying new sick-leave and remote work policies to help our employees take better care of themselves and their families and help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Specific to our Pittsburgh-based employees, we have already communicated a work from home option in consultation with our client, Google. We are enabling a remote working model to keep their health and safety as the priority in line with our other global efforts around the COVID-19 situation."

Google employees previously said they were largely confident about their employer's overall preparations for COVID-19, Business Insider reported earlier in March. "We've been preparing for weeks, with company-wide communications daily, sometimes multiple times a day," a Canadian employee said. "Bottom line: nobody could be more prepared or execute on such a massive scale like this except Google."

Do you work at Google or Alphabet? How is the coronavirus outbreak affecting your workplace? Contact this reporter using a nonwork device via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-650-636-6268), encrypted email (robaeprice@protonmail.com), standard email (rprice@businessinsider.com), Telegram/Wickr/WeChat (robaeprice), or Twitter DM (@robaeprice). PR pitches by standard email only, please.

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