Google’s Chance to Do Good for Gig Workers

Tom Conway

Tom Conway USW International President

Google is famous for workplaces called “campuses” where employees get enormous paychecks and enjoy all the perks of fancy private college campuses, including pingpong tables and other entertainment. ­

But other workers who produce for Google across the country are not so pampered. They are Google’s underclass. In this two-tier system, these workers get less money, less respect, and fewer perks.

It’s no wonder that these workers, like those at HCL, a contracting company that helps staff Google’s offices, have turned to labor unions to help fight for better conditions. Employees of HCL in Pittsburgh filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board late last month requesting a vote on representation by the Pittsburgh Association of Technical Professionals, a project of the United Steelworkers (USW) union, the union I lead.

And a union will help these workers. But Google also has a golden opportunity to change this system, to go to bat for contract workers. It wields clout over its contractors and should encourage them to do right by their employees, like those at HCL.

Because sure, pingpong tables are nice, but what these workers want is what all workers deserve: fair pay, decent benefits, a voice in their workplace and the job security that comes from a bargained labor contract.

Google should encourage HCL to recognize the union and give its employees a fair contract. By doing this, Google would set a significant example for the tech industry.

Contract and gig workers, like those at HCL, are a big part of the U.S. economy — a 2018 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 15.5 million Americans worked as independent contractors, on-call employees, freelancers or temporary employees. That’s up from 12.1 million in 1995.

Besides lower pay, contract workers often get fewer benefits than a company’s regular employees. Or they get no benefits­.

Now, they’re turning to labor unions — like so many workers in other fields have done — to improve their lot.

The Trump administration should be sticking up for them also. But it isn’t. It’s almost as if the National Labor Relations Board is stuck in the 1950s, unable to catch up with a new economy in which workers need protection even though their working arrangements have changed.

Just look at the board’s ruling on the drivers for SuperShuttle, the airport transportation company. The board ruled in January that the drivers are contractors, not employees, so they’re unable to organize.

NLRB officials have adopted a similar position with other gig workers, including Uber drivers.

The board dealt gig workers another big blow late last month. It ruled that Velox Express Inc., a medical courier service in Arkansas and Tennessee, didn’t violate the National Labor Relations Act by misclassifying employees as contractors.

A decision like that will embolden other employers to pass employees off as contractors. If employees challenge a misclassification and win, the company faces no penalty. That’s no deterrent for abusing workers.

The NLRB must get with the times, just as labor unions have. In addition to its core industries, the USW now represents pharmacists, physicians, nurses, college professors, lawyers and workers in many other fields. And labor unions of all sorts are stepping up to help gig workers, many of whom are millennials who understand the benefits of union representation.

Lots of money is at stake in worker classification battles. But there’s something more — the compact between worker and employer — that’s also on the line.

Employees make a company what it is. Their dedication turns a profit and keeps customers happy. Their innovation enables a company to get ahead. In return, a company has an obligation to provide its workers — all of its workers — with decent wages and benefits.

Uber and Lyft don’t get it yet. They’re prime examples of gig economy employers getting rich on the backs of “independent” contractors, some of whom don’t make minimum wage after costs for gas, insurance and car repairs are considered.

In California, lawmakers are considering a bill that could make it more difficult for companies to classify gig workers as contractors. Uber, Lyft and DoorDash have vowed to spend up to $90 million on a ballot initiative that would help them to classify workers on their terms.

That’s a lot of money to spend to hold working people down.

Across the country, Google has a veritable army of contract workers. In fact, it has more contract workers than employees. HCL is one of many companies that provide Google with “TVCs,” shorthand for “temps, vendors and contractors.”

Bloomberg and other news outlets have reported on this “shadow work force.” The contract workers’ badges, red instead of a Google employee’s white, are only one sign of their second-class status. Contract workers often are paid significantly less than direct workers and are denied some of the perks that Google employees get.

In April, Google announced that it would require contract workers to be given health care, sick leave and parental leave by 2022 and a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2020. But contractors can do better.

Nationwide, Google’s contract workers perform a variety of functions ranging from code-writing to human resources work to team management. When companies pay these workers less than their own employees or save money on benefits, they shore up their already-robust bottom line, keep investors happy and provide more money for stock buybacks that enrich CEOs.

If the federal government won’t protect workers, states should step in when they can, as California is doing.

To be considered contractors under California’s bill, workers would have to be free of a company’s “control and direction,” perform duties outside the company’s regular scope of work and have other employment.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat from San Diego who introduced the legislation, said the NLRB’s position on Uber drivers “is just one more instance in President Trump’s growing list of attacks against workers.”

State lawmakers and organized labor are important allies for contract and gig workers. But Google can make a big difference also. Google has a chance to step up, demand fairness for contract workers and become a role model for the entire tech industry, an industry that prides itself on innovation.

There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

More ...