News

Google employees stage walk-out

Carrying signs with messages such as "Don't be evil," several hundred Google employees around the world briefly walked off the job in a protest against what they said is the tech company's mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations against executives.

Employees staged walkouts at offices from Tokyo and Singapore to London and New York, with more expected to do so in California later in the day, reflecting a #MeToo-era backlash among women against frat-house misbehaviour in heavily male-dominated Silicon Valley.

In Dublin, organisers used megaphones to address the crowd of men and women to express their support for victims of sexual harassment. Other workers gathered indoors, in conference rooms or lobbies, to show their solidarity with abuse victims.

Protesters in New York carried signs with such messages as "Not OK Google" and "Don't Be Evil" — a mocking reference to Google's one-time motto.

Designer Leeung Li Jo, said in New York that she wanted to show support for the #MeToo movement "so we can have a comfortable working environment."

"Time is up on sexual harassment, time is up on systemic racism, time is up on abuses of power! Enough is enough!" organiser Vicki Tardif Holland shouted, her voice hoarse, at a gathering of about 300 people in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The walkouts reflected doubts among some of the 94,000 employees at Google and its corporate parent Alphabet Inc. that the company is adhering to its own dictum in the Alphabet corporate code of conduct: "Do the right thing."

Protest organisers said Google has publicly championed diversity and inclusion but hasn't done enough to put words into action.

In an unsigned statement from organisers, the protesters called for an end to forced arbitration in harassment and discrimination cases, a practice that requires employees to give up their right to sue and often includes confidentiality agreements.

They also want Google to end pay inequity, issue a report on sexual harassment inside the company and adopt a clearer process for reporting complaints.

The Google protest unfolded a week after a New York Times story detailed allegations of sexual misconduct about the creator of Google's Android software, Andy Rubin. The report said Rubin received a $90 million severance package in 2014 after Google concluded the accusations against him were credible.

Rubin denied the allegations in a tweet.

The same story also disclosed allegations of sexual misconduct against other executives, including Richard DeVaul, a director at the Google-affiliated lab that created such projects as self-driving cars and internet-beaming balloons. DeVaul had remained at the "X'' lab after the allegations surfaced about him a few years ago, but he resigned without severance, Google said.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologised for the company's "past actions" in an email sent to employees. 

"I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel," Pichai wrote. "I feel it as well, and I am fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted for far too long in our society ... and, yes, here at Google, too."

Pichai indicated that Google wouldn't interfere with protest plans and would ensure that "you have the support you need."

Last week, Pichai and Google's personnel chief sought to assure employees that the company had cracked down on sexual misconduct since Rubin's departure four years ago. Among other things, they said Google had fired 48 employees , including 13 senior managers, for sexual harassment in recent years without giving any of them severance packages.

Google and other Silicon Valley companies have been plagued by dissension on a number of other fronts involving their business practices.

In August, more than 1,000 Google employees signed a letter protesting the company's plan to build a search engine that would comply with Chinese censorship rules.

Earlier, thousands signed a petition asking Google to cancel an artificial-intelligence project to help the Pentagon improve the targeting of drone strikes. Google later said it won't renew the contract, according to published reports.

A Silicon Valley congresswoman tweeted her support of the Google walkout using the #MeToo hashtag that has become a battle cry for women fighting sexual misconduct.

"Why do they think it's OK to reward perpetrators & further violate victims?" asked Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier, who represents a well-to-do district where many of Google's employees live.

Newsroom is powered by the generosity of readers like you, who support our mission to produce fearless, independent and provocative journalism.

Comments

Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

PARTNERS