Google workers urge tech giants to drop forced arbitration

It’s the first major protest of the year from tech workers.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

Stephen Shankland/CNET

When Google workers walked out of their offices in November to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment claims, one of their demands was that the company end its policy of forced arbitration in cases of sexual assault and discrimination. Forced arbitration often means workers can't take their employers to court when they complain internally.

Google partly capitulated, ending the practice when it dealt with sexual assault. But organizers said the change didn't go far enough, and now a group of Google workers is pushing for tech giants to drop the practice altogether.

The group, called Googlers For Ending Forced Arbitration, on Tuesday launched a social media campaign meant to pressure their employer and other Silicon Valley companies. The protest will take place on the group's Twitter and Instagram accounts, where participants will post facts about forced arbitration, as well as interviews with workers who have been affected by the practice.

"In surveying the employees of 30+ tech companies and 10+ common Temp/Vendor/Contractor suppliers in the industry, not a single business could meet 3 basic criteria of a transparent & equitable workplace," the group tweeted Tuesday morning.

The series of tweets started at 6 a.m. PT, and will continue until 3 p.m. PT. Campaign organizers also said Monday that Google is still using the old arbitration policy in contracts and offer letters.

Google didn't respond to a request for comment.

Watch this: Google employees stage walkout, Apple touts new products

The group says 60 million Americans are affected by forced arbitration. In other tweets, the organizers showed employees and contractors how to search through their contracts to find their arbitration clauses. The group also laid out the arbitration policies of several big tech companies. For example, organizers said Facebook forces arbitration in cases of discrimination and wrongful termination, but not sexual harassment. 

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The campaign is the first major protest of the year from Google workers, after standing up against their employer on several occasions last year. In one case, they protested Project Maven, an initiative to use artificial intelligence to improve the analysis of drone footage. A handful of Google employees resigned, and in April more than 4,000 workers reportedly signed a petition addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding he cancel the project. In June, Google said it wouldn't renew the Maven contract or pursue similar contracts, though it'd still work with the military.

Workers also united against Dragonfly, a project to build a censored search engine for China. Employees wanted Google to create an ethical review process that included input from rank-and-file workers, not just from high-level executives. Hundreds of Google employees, mostly software engineers, also joined with Amnesty International in a letter demanding Pichai cancel the project. Last month, Google "effectively ended" Dragonfly, according to The Intercept, after it shut down access to data that was key to the project.

But the big moment for protesters at Google last year was the walkout, which drew 20,000 workers from Google offices around the world. That protest set the stage for Tuesday's campaign.

"To the workers who quietly sent us their own employer agreements and shared their stories with us … your courage is the kind we hope to see from our leaders and lawmakers in 2019," organizers wrote

First published Jan. 15, 6:10 a.m. PT.
Updated, 11:37 a.m. PT: Adds more details from the campaign. 

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