Washington (PAI) – From Silicon Valley to New York City to Dublin to Singapore, thousands of Google workers walked out of 40 of its offices worldwide on Nov. 1 to protest the firm’s denial of sexual harassment on the job and to demand positive and permanent changes to that culture.
The walkout, organized via social media and not by any particular union, followed a devastating New York Times report on how the company avoids the issue and mistreats its female workers.
“Our company has had a history of harassment, discrimination and protecting abusers. We have had enough,” one organizer tweeted.
It also comes just after Andy Rubin, one of the few Google executive harassers who got caught – and canned – walked away with a $90 million severance payment.
SYMPTOM OF A
But the Google walkout is a symptom of a greater problem in the high-tech and Internet-savvy firms of California’s Silicon Valley, which have been known for their pay discrimination against women, high-tech, low-tech, no-tech, and even executives.
Indeed, one woman executive at another Silicon Valley firm sued for pay discrimination – and got fired as a result. And only 31 percent of Silicon Valley high-tech workers are female. But it wasn’t just women who walked out, one leader said. Men left their desks, too, she added.
The Silicon Valley firms also subcontract the jobs of their blue-collar workers to firms which pay little or nothing in one of the nation’s costliest areas. That particularly impacts van drivers who pick up the high-tech employees from cities and suburbs around the South Bay area and ferry them to their plants.
Those workers are so badly paid and treated that droves of them, from many high-tech firms, have organized with the Teamsters, and the San Jose Central Labor Council has had a long-running campaign to help them.
‘VERY REAL CHANGES’
NEED TO HAPPEN
Last week’s walkouts occurred in San Jose, San Francisco, Chicago, Singapore, Zurich, London, Singapore, Dublin and elsewhere.
“They (Google) have to take seriously the claims that people were harassed, and not sweep them under the rug,” one Google worker who walked out told National Public Radio in New York.
“We’ve always been told that Google is a leading-edge company, that our culture is something really special,” Claire Stapleton, who helped organize the walkout, also told NPR.
“And in that way we totally have the space to walk out and do this,” Stapleton said. “But we also see some very real changes that need to happen.”
She said the walkout isn’t just about sexual harassment of women, but also people of color, contractors, and others at the company who have experienced “feeling diminished or disrespected, have experienced feeling unsafe.”
Crowds jammed the boulevards around Google’s San Jose headquarters, according to photos on twitter. Individual workers weighed in via that social medium, too.
Some 1,000 walked out in San Francisco, Kate Clark tweeted, with photos, under the hashtag #GoogleWalkout.
“Very proud to participate in the #googlewalkout today showing solidarity with my colleagues, fighting for equality and demanding real change!” Karen O’Connell tweeted from Dublin.
The Google workers demanded an end to sexual harassment at the tech giant, an end to forced arbitration in such cases – which allows the firm to demand “confidential” settlements – a Google commitment to end discrimination in pay and job opportunities, a safe and anonymous sexual harassment reporting process and a public sexual harassment transparency report.
“As Google workers, we were disgusted by the details of the recent New York Times article, which provided the latest example of a culture of complicity, dismissiveness, and support for perpetrators in the face of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse of power,” walkout organizers e-mailed to NPR. “For every story in the New York Times, there are thousands more, at every level of the company. Most have not been told.”
The company CEO scrambled, in advance, to respond, when word started to spread about the planned walkout, two days before. He didn’t succeed.
“A company is nothing without its workers,” the seven organizers wrote. “From the moment we start at Google we’re told that we aren’t just employees; we’re owners. Every person who walked out today is an owner, and the owners say: Time’s up.”