Google and the Gig Workers: What Other Employers Can Learn

Jan 22, 2019

LIN GRENSING — POPHAL SHRM, January 22, 2019 |

In December, Google’s temporary, vendor and contract workers (TVCs) rose up to demand benefits and communication equal to what Google’s regular staff members receive. They pointed to both practical and emotional issues.As Vox reported, they wrote a letter to senior management in which they noted:

  • Lack of communication about safety issues. They were left out of communications sent to full-time employees warning them of a shooting on the Google-owned YouTube campus, “leaving TVCs defenseless in the line of fire.”
  • Ongoing insecurity and uncertainty over contract renewals.
  • Lack of access to learning and development resources and training that full-time workers have.
  • Lack of access to better pay and benefits like “high-quality healthcare, paid vacations, paid sick days, holiday pay, family leave, and bonuses.”

The letter claimed that the “exclusion of TVCs from important communications and fair treatment is part of a system of institutional racism, sexism, and discrimination.” Contractors wear red badges; employees wear white. Employees often receive perks like hors d’oeuvres, even beer, during meetings; contractors are asked to return to their desks.

The concerns are compelling, but there are fundamental differences between contractors and full-time staff. Employers can’t treat gig workers the same as regular employees, but they can treat them better than they have been, experts say.

A Legitimate Difference

As a Google spokesperson told CNBC, “At the end of the day, TVCs are an important part of the workforce, but they are not Google employees and not privy to the same confidential company information that full-time Googlers are.”

[VisitSHRM’s Resource Page on Independent Contractors]

Scott Absher is CEO of ShiftPixy, a scheduling and recruiting platform for managing contingent shift workers that is based in Irvine, Calif. He said many workers in contract positions are actually employees of the staffing firms that placed them in the contract position. They’re likely exempt from receiving perks from the company they perform work for but would receive benefits (like workers’ compensation, for example) from the staffing firm that directly hires them. However, he agrees with the TVCs that there is an apparent upside to being a direct employee of the company and that Google can make concerted efforts to ensure that contractors are entitled to equal treatment to the extent that it is able.

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