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Report: Google is running a “white-collar sweatshop,” according to Assistant contractors

Report: Google is running a “white-collar sweatshop,” according to Assistant contractors
[Photo: Noah_Loverbear/Wikimedia Commons]

Yesterday leaked documents revealed that Google now has more temp and contract workers than actual employees. Today a report from the Guardian reveals what it’s like to be one of those temp or contract workers, and according to one current employee, “It’s like a white-collar sweatshop.”

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The investigation looks specifically at the work culture at Pygmalion, the brain trust of mostly subcontracted (human) workers who help ensure that the Google Assistant runs seamlessly in many languages. The report compares it to academia’s deservedly maligned adjunct system where highly educated people are stuck working long hours for little money and with few or none of the benefits that their tenured colleagues enjoy.

The contractors, all of whom have “at least a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, though many have master’s degrees and some have doctorates,” are overworked, underpaid, and made more miserable by the fact that they are surrounded by well-paid employees enjoying the benefits and perks associated with Silicon Valley employment. As one anonymous Google employee told the Guardian, “If it’s not illegal, it’s definitely exploitative. It’s to the point where I don’t use the Google Assistant, because I know how it’s made, and I can’t support it.”

The report also alleges massive disparities between Google employees and contractors, with employees earning more money and paying way less for health insurance, both in monthly payments and deductibles. To make matters worse, Pygmalion’s subcontracted temps have reportedly been routinely pressured to work unpaid overtime for years, where it was “made clear” they were “never to log more than 40 hours,” no matter how much they work.

If true, Google and Adecco, a staffing firm that brings in many temps, could be liable for unpaid wages and damages. These educated, hard-working employees reportedly put up with it because many believe it will lead to full-time employment at Google, a dream job for almost anyone. When reached for comment, a Google spokesperson said that being a temporary worker or vendor is never a trial run for employment at Google, and that is supposed to be made completely clear to temps and contractors. If they want a job at Google, they have to apply for it.

“Our policy is clear that all temporary workers must be paid for any overtime worked,” said Eileen Naughton, Google’s VP of people operations, in a statement to Fast Company. “If we find that anyone isn’t properly paid, we make sure they are compensated appropriately and take action against any Google employee who violates this policy.”

Both Google and Adecco recently launched investigations into the allegations of unpaid overtime in Pygmalion.

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