It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s a well-known fact – many of the people who work for Google don’t actually work for Google. And the same goes for Facebook and Apple and Oracle and HP and Microsoft and lots of other big tech companies. Instead, they work for employment companies that contract with the big tech outfits to supply everything from janitorial and security services to marketing and even software development.
Driven by the goal of saving a few bucks on salaries and benefits and making it easier to hire and fire without incurring liability, this process has become so commonplace that it’s hardly even commented on much anymore. I personally have worked for more than one tech giant without actually working for the company in question. And I know many contract tech workers who have toiled full time for years doing the same work as regular employees, making less money, getting few or no benefits (much less in the way of equity options, etc.) from the contract outsourcer, and enjoying zero job security.
Did the protests matter?
And that’s the upscale side of the practice. Things are much worse for folks doing service work at far lower pay grades. But Google’s recent decision to actually hire some 200 security guards at the Googleplex may shake up that cozy practice.
Google—like many other companies—had been getting its guards supplied by Security Industry Specialists, which has long been the target of union protests at Google headquarters, the San Francisco Apple Store, and other spots, claiming low pay and irregular hours—basically that SIS workers don’t share in the wealth created by the tech companies at which they’re working. Many other service functions are outsourced through other companies.
The inequality issue is especially touchy here in the Bay Area, as it continues to be troubled by tensions between long-time residents and increasingly wealthy tech workers and investors. Contract workers often work without benefits or job security next to actual employees making fat salaries along with free food and many other services.
According to USA Today:
"Studies show that the trend of outsourcing these positions has led to declining wages, eroding health and safety conditions and a lower standard of living for workers, most of whom are black and Hispanic. Blacks and Hispanics account for a tiny fraction of the professional workforce at major Silicon Valley companies."
A good start, no matter the reason
By becoming Google employees, the security guards will be eligible for the same sweet benefit packages enjoyed by other Google workers. And that, according to the Wall Street Journal, is "a move that could reverberate around Silicon Valley." For instance, when Google released a report on the diversity of its workers earlier this year, other tech heavyweights in the Valley quickly followed suit.
The SF Gate quoted Alfredo A. Fletes, a spokesman for SEIU-United Service Workers West, which organized the Apple Store protest, saying "For years, service workers have been urging the tech giants to support good jobs that give everyone a fair shot at a better way of life…Google's decision is a step in the right direction. Apple, however, continues their relationship with SIS."
Even if Google's move to hire the security guards is little more than a ploy to boost its diversity score without looking for more minority engineers and execs, I think it's still better than outsourcing everything. If the tech industry has any intention of addressing its own inequality issues and defusing some of the rampant resentment against the tech-shuttle-riding Millennial elite, scaling back on the contractors and letting more people onto the bus is a fine place to start.
I know I didn't much like the status of being a contractor instead of an employee. I imagine things are a lot worse for a $15-an-hour security guard politely watching a 24-year-old brogammer making $175,000 a year chow down on his free lunch while counting his stock-option millions.