Report: Big Tech’s Use of Temp Labor Is Hurting Workers and Jobs

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.

READ THE REPORT: Temps in Tech: How Big Tech’s Use of Temp Labor Degrades Job Quality and Locks Workers Out of Permanent, Stable Jobs

“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:

  • While Black and Latinx workers are underrepresented in the tech industry, they are much more likely to be hired as temps or other contract workers than as permanent employees.
  • The hyper-precarious nature of temped-out tech jobs makes temps in tech especially vulnerable to discrimination and harassment, as well as to retaliation for speaking out about this abuse.
  • Temps in tech are paid less than the industry standard for their work, and they have few or no benefits like paid sick and vacation leave and employer-sponsored health insurance.
  • These jobs usually do not provide a pathway to permanent employment at a tech company, even though temps in tech are sometimes led to believe otherwise. In fact, temp agencies commonly adopt practices that restrict temp workers’ opportunities to obtain permanent employment, like charging the tech company a substantial “conversion fee” for hiring a temp worker permanently.

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:

  • Equal pay for equal work: Temp workers should be paid the same as permanent employees performing similar work.
  • Joint employer liability: Tech companies—as well as all other companies that contract out work to intermediaries like temp agencies—should be responsible as joint employers for working conditions for their contracted workers. They should also be at the bargaining table during union negotiations.
  • Transparency about the terms and conditions of assignments: Staffing agencies should be required to provide temp workers with written notice of the terms and conditions of each assignment, including the length of the assignment, the possibility of transitioning to permanent employment, and the “spread” between the temp worker’s hourly wage and the hourly charge to the client company for their labor.
  • Prohibition on employment terms that limit temp workers’ other job opportunities: Contract terms that limit temp workers’ opportunities to obtain permanent employment at a client company—or even accept employment with a competitor company—should be prohibited or strictly limited.
  • Record-keeping requirements: Temp agencies should be required to keep records about each assignment, including its length, pay, and hours, and each temp worker applicant and placement, including demographic information and length of employment. These records can shine a light on discriminatory and abusive practices.

“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.


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