Everyone has a limit. And when it does come, the trigger may be a small thing, an incident that normally wouldn’t matter. Shannon Wait’s moment came when the water bottle Google gave her broke. The data center where he worked was very hot, so he asked for another.
He says the Google subcontractor he worked for refused to give it to him.
That moment unleashed a chain reaction Which led to an announcement last week: Google signed a statement saying that company employees have the right to discuss their salary and working conditions with each other.
It may seem strange even that there was a need to say something like that.
But in fact, this was the culmination of Shannon Wait’s battle with the company.
Theirs is a story of the bosses’ extra limits, a story that highlights managerial practices that have become commonplace in the big tech world.
Shannon finished her BA in History in 2018 and began working at a Google data center in South Carolina the following February, earning $ 15 an hour.
“You’re fixing the servers, which includes changing hard drives, changing motherboards, lifting heavy batteries, about 13.6 kilograms each,” he says.
“It is a really difficult job.”
Google offices have a reputation for being creative, alternative, and fun, with ping pong tables, free snacks, and music rooms.
However, what Shannon describes sounds less idyllic.
“People are not playing all day like you see in the movies. The data center is completely different, ”he explains.
Shannon was a contractor at Google. This means that although she worked in a Google data center, she was actually employed by a subcontractor called Modis, part of a group of companies owned by another firm, Adecco.
That complicated arrangement has become increasingly common at Google. About half of the people who work for the company are contractors.
This makes figuring out who is responsible for managerial errors complex. But we’ll talk about that later.
Shannon says that when the pandemic broke out, the job became more difficult. Increased the minimum number of tasks to perform per shift. But there was a trade-off.
“Around May 2020, Google announced that it would handle the pandemic honorably. They said they were going to give bonuses to all the employees, including contractors, who will work in person, “he says.
“The moment came when we were supposed to receive the bonus and it did not appear in our bank accounts. We started to worry, you know, we said ‘I really could use that extra money.’
Around that time, Shannon recalls, employees started talking to each other about the bonus and how much they were entitled to.
“We started asking each other about salary, but every time the issue came up in front of a boss we were told not to talk about it.”
Shannon says she even got a message from a boss saying, “It’s never okay to talk about compensation with your colleagues.” He showed it to the BBC:
Finally, Shannon received the bonus, but says she was already disappointed.
I was hoping to get a full-time job at Google. Instead, he perceived a culture of “perma-temps”, temporary staff that, he points out, will never be fixed no matter how hard they try.
The breaking point
Frustrated with directing, Shannon reached what she marks as her breaking point.
“It is very hot in the data centers, about 29.5ºC. Google gave me a bottle of water, but the cap broke. “
He points out that the same thing happened to his colleague, a full-time Google employee.
Her colleague was given a new bottle, but not her.
He went home and wrote a facebook post.
He said that he had had “enough”.
“The next day, I was at work and they called me into a meeting room with practically all the bosses present. They told me that my Facebook post broke the confidentiality agreement, that I was a security risk and that I had to hand over my pass and my computer immediately and be escorted to the exit ”.
In the hands of the union
The Alphabet Workers Union (Google’s parent company) was established in January 2021 for Google employees.
It is not recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, an independent government agency sometimes referred to as a “minority union.”
The vast majority of Google employees are not members, but Shannon was and the union took up her case.
In February, they filed two lawsuits on his behalf under the laws against unfair labor practices. One, that she had been illegally suspended for speaking out about her support for a union. And the other, that his bosses had illegally asked him not to talk about his salary.
Last month, Google, Modis and the Alphabet Workers Union reached an agreement.
Shannon’s suspension was revoked.
Google signed a document saying that its employees “have the right to speak about wages and working conditions.”
It was a victory for both Shannon and the newly formed union.
“The people who work in warehouses and data centers for these billion dollar companies are tired of their smallest rights being trampled on. And they realize that companies are not listening to their employees. So we are going to force them to do it. “
In the past week, Amazon employees in Alabama voted on the possibility of unionizing. Amazon is desperate to avoid worker unions.
The result must come soon. It’s the latest battle between tech giants and workers who feel, to put it mildly, unloved.
“I think one of the biggest things people can learn is that not all Google employees have a six-figure salary… and that even at the lowest level at Google, workers have a lot of power, a lot more power than that they realize, ”says Shannon.
And on the part of Google?
Google did not admit to doing anything wrong as part of the settlement and did not admit to being a “joint employer” of contract personnel.
The BBC submitted Shannon’s version to Google, but the company said it had nothing more to add.
Adecco has not responded to the BBC’s request for an interview.
Shannon doesn’t want to go back to the Google data center, as she wants to do a Ph.D. in history.
So far she has already contributed to the history books with the rare victory of an employee against a tech giant.