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Google and Facebook employees team up against their bosses

January 14 · Issue #272 · View online
The Interface
Last week we wrote about a pair of new lawsuits against Google’s parent company, Alphabet, alleging that the board acted improperly in which it agreed to pay out tens of millions of dollars to executives who had been found to have committed sexual misconduct. The plaintiffs are seeking a variety of internal reforms at Google, starting with an end to the forced arbitration agreements that limit employees’ legal rights when they are the subject of workplace discrimination.
The plaintiffs — who represent shareholders — have a natural ally in Alphabet employees. And those employees will pick up the baton today when the mount a new public awareness campaign, along with a daylong protest on social media. Nitasha Tiku has the details in Wired:
From 9am to 6pm eastern time on Tuesday, the group will post information about arbitration on a dedicated Twitteraccount, while a companion Instagram account will post testimonials from both experts and survivors of sexual harassment and assault. The purpose of the social media blitz is to bring awareness to the fine print in arbitration clauses, mobilize workers to call on Congress to act, and encourage employees at other companies to demand changes.
“This isn’t just a Google issue. If they all have these arbitration agreements, then there is really is no way for employees to negotiate,” says Vicki Tardif, a staff linguist on Google’s search team, who organized and spoke at the Google walkout in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mandatory arbitration agreements, often signed as part of an employment contract, have come under fire during the #MeToo movement for silencing survivors, while shielding serial predators, because the agreements force employees to take their claims to a private arbiter, rather than public court.
In part, the move comes out of Googler frustration that the the company has not ended arbitration agreements as it promised to after November’s Google walkout, organizers wrote in a Medium post today:
The change yielded a win in the headlines, but provided no meaningful gains for worker equity … nor any actual change in employee contracts or future offer letters. (As of this publication, we have confirmed Google is still sending out offer letters with the old arbitration policy.)
So in December 2018, we launched an industry-wide effort focused on ending forced arbitration. This practice affects at least 60 million workers in the US alone. Ending forced arbitration is the gateway change needed to transparently address inequity in the workplace. 
Tiku says the anti-arbitration campaign represents a watershed moment for tech’s budding labor movement, because it involves multiple companies. Googlers crowdsourced employment contracts from Facebook, Uber, and other companies, she reports, as well as contractors. They found that none of the companies surveyed made arbitration optional, allowed employees to bring class-action suits, or permitted them to discuss their cases.
So much of the past two years has been about reckoning with the power that the biggest tech platforms have over their users. The Googlers’ work here offers a reminder of how much power tech workers — by virtue of the high demand for their skills — have over their companies. And if the movement to end arbitration proves successful, that power could ripple across whole industries.

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