Posted August 20, 2021
But Temps in Tech Are Organizing to Build Power & Raise Labor Standards
NATIONWIDE—Tech companies such as Google and Microsoft are increasingly contracting out jobs to temporary staffing agencies and other labor brokers—a business practice that depresses workers’ wages and degrades working conditions, exacerbates occupational segregation, weakens temp workers’ collective voice on the job, and locks them into a system of permanent temporary work, according to a new report by the National Employment Law Project and Temp Worker Justice.
The report, which relies on first-hand accounts from dozens of subcontracted tech workers as well as independent research into the tech industry, finds that tech companies treat their temped-out tech workers much worse than their permanent, direct-hire employees. This unequal treatment takes many forms, including inferior wages and benefits, vulnerability to discrimination and sexual harassment, and hyper-precarious employment, which makes the risk of retaliation for speaking out acute. Because occupation segregation is pervasive in the tech industry, people of color feel the brunt of this unequal treatment.
“This system is no accident,” said Laura Padin, senior staff attorney at NELP and a report coauthor. “Tech companies created this system so that they could divide workers from each other—and squelch union organizing drives—and extract as much labor as possible at the lowest cost from their temporary workforce while avoiding accountability as an employer for doing so.”
“Worker are enticed into these jobs by a tech company’s prestige and by implicit and explicit promises that they will eventually land a permanent position at that tech company,” said Dave DeSario, director of Temp Worker Justice and a report coauthor. “But temps in tech eventually realize that they are trapped in permatemp positions outsourced to temp staffing agencies.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the inequities that temps in tech face. “I’ve spent seven years on-site at Google—six with HCL—and I have witnessed many instances of TVCs being kept separate from permanent employees,” said Gabrielle Norton-Moore, an employee of HCL Technologies, a Google contractor, referring to the company’s acronym for temps, vendors, and contractors. “But the worst treatment of TVCs I saw was when, in the middle of March 2020, we were forced to risk our lives by continuing to come into the office for four days a week after they told Google staff to work from home due to Covid. The blatant disregard for our lives was disgusting and horrifying.”
The report’s findings include the following:
Despite these challenges, temps in tech are organizing to build power. In 2019, the United HCL Workers of Pittsburgh—a group of subcontracted Google workers—voted to form a union affiliated with the United Steelworkers and are currently in negotiations with HCL Technologies for their first contract. And, in January 2021, the Alphabet Workers Union—an 800-plus group of Google direct employees, temps, and other subcontracted workers—publicly launched a minority union with the support of the Communication Workers of America to build power in their workplace and pressure Google to act ethically, both as an employer and as a community member. The Alphabet Workers Union has said that including temps and other subcontracted Google workers in its movement is critical to undoing the segregated employment system that keeps many Black and brown workers in second-class temp and other contract jobs.
The report recommends the following policies to raise labor standards for temp workers in tech, build their collective power, and hold tech companies accountable:
“It is time to end the second-tier employment status of temps in tech and give them a real opportunity to join with their fellow co-workers—both temp and permanent alike—to build power and raise standards at their workplace,” concluded Temp Worker Justice’s Dave DeSario.