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“I can no longer bail out a raft with a teaspoon while those steering, punch holes in it”– Liz Fong Jones

Liz Fong Jones, former Google Engineer and an activist known for being outspoken about employee rights in the Silicon Valley, published a post on Medium yesterday. In the post, she talks about the ‘grave concerns’ related to strategic decisions made at Google and the way it has ‘misused its power’ by keeping profits above the well-being of people.

Jones, who emerged as a prominent figure in the field of Site Reliability Engineering had joined Google 11 years ago. However, she left the company last month, citing Google’s lack of leadership in response to the Google walkout demands in November 2018. “I can’t continue burning myself out pushing for change. Instead, I am putting my own health first by joining a workplace that has a more diverse and fair working environment”, writes Jones.

Google Walkout was a response to a report on workplace sexual harassment by the New York Times in October 2018. The report revealed that Google protected its senior execs accused of sexual abuse within the workplace and also paid them heavy exit packages ($90 million payout to Andy Rubin). Jones mentions that it was this event that “utterly shattered employees’ trust and goodwill in the management”.

She mentions that Google management failed to effectively address the Google Walkout demands. Apart from not meeting the structural demand for having an employee representative on board, Google also didn’t entirely put an end to forced arbitration within the workplace.

A group of Google employees, called ‘Googlers for ending forced arbitration’ launched a public awareness social media campaign, last month, to educate people across industries about the forced arbitration policy via Instagram and Twitter. They argued that the Google announcement regarding ending forced arbitration only made up for strong headlines, and did not actually do enough for the employees. This is because although Google made forced arbitration optional in case of sexual harassment for the employees ( excluding contractors, temps), it didn’t do so for other forms of discrimination.

Google TVCs also wrote an open letter to Google’s CEO, last December, demanding for equal benefits and treatment. They also reiterated the demands of the walkout in the letter.

Additionally, two shareholders, James Martin, and the pension funds also sued Alphabet’s board members for protecting the top execs accused of sexual assault, last month. The lawsuit alleged that Google directors agreed to pay Rubin to ‘ensure his silence’ and suppress information about the misconduct of other executives. Jones further states that Google also filed a motion before the National Labor Relations Board to overturn a ruling that permitted employees to organize on company email and document systems.

Other than the issues faced during the Google walkout, Jones also wrote about issues during the Google+ launch, when the Google employees including herself, opposed against the Google + ‘real name’ policy. As per the policy, people have to use their legal names on the platform. “In doing so, Google+ would create yet another space inaccessible to some teachers, therapists, LGBT+ people, and others who need to use a different identity for privacy and safety”, mentions Jones. She writes that despite the employees’ opposition, Google+ launched in mid-2011 with a real-name policy.

Moreover, there was also an increase in harassment, doxxing (harassment method that reveals a person’s personal information on the internet) and hate speech targeted at marginalized employees within Google’s internal communications. Management, however, silently tolerated it. In fact, in case the employees attempted to internally raise concerns about harassment (via the official channels), they were either ignored or punished for doing so. Another common issue was an increasing willingness to compromise on ethics for profit. “Google will need to fundamentally change how it is run in order to win back the trust of workers and prevent a catastrophic loss of long-tenured employees, especially those from vulnerable groups”, writes Jones.

Other than that, Jones is contributing $100,000 payout from Google to support Google workers (esp.contractors and H-1B workers) who may face retaliation for their future organizing. Other workers have also pledged a further $150,000. Other groups such as Coworker.org and the Tech Workers Coalition, are also helping Jones and other employees learn more about their rights.

She also mentioned that although she’s no longer a part of Google, she will remain ‘fiercely loyal’ to its employees who have committed themselves to develop ethical products and who continue to advocate for equal and fair treatment of their fellow colleagues.  “The labor movement at Google is larger and stronger than ever, and it will continue to advance human rights..regardless of whether management supports them”, writes Jones.

For complete information, check out the official Liz Fong Jones Medium post.

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Tech writer at the Packt Hub. Dreamer, book nerd, lover of scented candles, karaoke, and Gilmore Girls.