Amazon, Google pay the piper

Megan Rose Dickey
·7 min read

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The events of this week perfectly encapsulate the variety of worker and workplace-related struggles happening in the tech industry. Google settled some discrimination allegations with the Department of Labor, Amazon agreed to settle a complaint with the FTC over stolen tips from Flex workers and the Alphabet Workers Union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. It was quite the week so let's get to it.

Grocery delivery startup Dumpling faces backlash

Dumpling workers said this week they have been misled by the Instacart alternative’s business model, Vice reported. Additionally, workers told Vice the company shut down their Facebook post where they were protesting pay changes.

From Vice:

But Dumpling is now in hot water with many of the gig workers on its platform, which it calls "business owners." These business owners say the company has misled them about how much autonomy and control they'd have on the platform, and has shut down their Facebook group after workers on the platform spoke out against a series of changes the company made to its pay model in the latter half of 2020. When Dumpling closed the Facebook group, it said the group "ha[d]n't lived up to its positive intent."

Alpha Global walks back its announcement

Remember when Alpha Global announced an alliance of Alphabet workers around the world, including those affiliated with the recently-formed Alphabet Workers Union in the U.S.? Well, it turns out that wasn’t entirely true. Alpha Global has since issued a revised statement clarifying it did not have buy-in from AWU.

In our announcement of the Alpha Global alliance, UNI mistakenly included CODE-CWA and the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) as members of the Alpha Global Alliance and a quote from AWU Executive Chair Parul Koul, without receiving proper authorization from CWA, the Alphabet Workers Union’s elected Executive Council, or Ms. Koul. We take full responsibility and have addressed this situation to prevent it from happening again.

But by the time Alpha Global made the announcement, the damage had already been done, according to The Verge. Some AWU members expressed their concerns with the way things went down, and some are now pushing to disassociate from the Communications Workers of America.

It’s a whole thing that you can read more about here.

Alphabet Workers Union files complaint with NLRB

In a filing with the National Labor Union, AWU alleged Google vendor Adecco violated the law by trying to silence employees. The complaint alleges employees were punished for discussing their pay. The complaint was filed against both Adecco and Google

Google CEO meets with HBCUs

In light of recent departures of Black leaders at Google, CEO Sundar Pichai met with five HBCUs last Friday. The meeting itself was relatively uneventful -- they reportedly didn’t even talk about the allegations from Dr. Timnit Gebru and April Curley -- but HBCUs and Google provided the following joint-statement to CNN:

"We are all encouraged about the future partnership. The meeting paved the way for a more substantive partnership in a number of areas, from increased hiring to capacity building efforts that will increase the pipeline of tech talent from HBCUs.”

Speaking of Dr. Gebru, Google's lead of the ethical AI team, Margaret Mitchell, posted an email she sent to Google pertaining to Gebru's exit.

Google settles discrimination allegations with DOL

Google agreed to pay $2.59 million to more than 5,500 current employees and former job applicants as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor over allegations of systemic discrimination as it relates to compensation and hiring.

Google also agreed to reserve $250,000 a year for the next five years to address any potential pay equity adjustments that may come up. That brings Google’s total financial commitment to $3.8 million — a drop in the bucket for the company, whose parent company Alphabet has a market cap of $1.28 trillion.

The settlement comes after the DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs found pay disparities affecting female software engineers at Google’s offices in Mountain View, as well as in offices in Seattle and Kirkland, Washington. The OFCCP also found differences in hiring rates that “disadvantaged female and Asian applicants” for engineers roles at Google’s locations in San Francisco, Sunnyvale and Kirkland.

Two Google workers quit to show solidarity

Vinesh Kannan, a software engineer, quit Google in light of Dr. Timnit Gebru and April Curley’s negative experiences at the company.

In a tweet, Kannan said what they experienced “crossed a personal red line I wrote down when I started the job. I know I gained a lot from Google, but I also gained a lot from both of their work, and they were wronged.”

David Baker, who was a director focused on user safety, left Google last month, saying Gebru’s departure “extinguished my desire to continue as a Googler,” according to Reuters.

Amazon agreed to pay $61.7 million to settle FTC complaint over stolen tips from Flex workers

Amazon will pay $61.7 million to compensate the drivers who loss out on the tips they were owed.

From TC’s Sarah Perez:

According to the complaint against Amazon and its subsidiary Amazon Logistics, the company had advertised that it paid 100% of tips to drivers. But in reality, Amazon used the customer tips to cover the difference after it lowered the hourly rate — a change it didn’t inform drivers about, the complaint says.

The FTC also alleged that Amazon didn’t stop this behavior until it became aware of the FTC investigation in 2019.

Amazon union vote on the horizon

Despite Amazon’s motion to postpone the Bessemer, Alabama union election, the National Labor Relations Board on Friday denied the company’s request. The election will go as planned via mail-in ballots beginning on Monday, February 8.

Context: Amazon has been vocally anti-union, with a website dedicated to convincing workers not to unionize, as well as fliers posted inside the workplace -- even in bathroom stalls, according to The Washington Post.

Workers protest future Amazon fulfillment center

Over in Oxnard, Calif., workers protested at the site of a future Amazon fulfillment center, disrupting the construction efforts, Vice reported. The strike aimed to challenge the fact that Amazon contractor, Building Zone Industries, hired non-union workers from out of the state for the job. There were reportedly more than 100 people who participated in the strike and refused to cross the picket line to work on the project.

CA Supreme Court rejects lawsuit challenging Prop 22

The California Supreme Court shot down the lawsuit filed by a group of rideshare drivers in California and the Service Employees International Union that alleged Proposition 22 violates the state’s constitution.

“We are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear our case, but make no mistake: we are not deterred in our fight to win a livable wage and basic rights,” Hector Castellanos, a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “We will consider every option available to protect California workers from attempts by companies like Uber and Lyft to subvert our democracy and attack our rights in order to improve their bottom lines.”

The suit argued Prop 22 makes it harder for the state’s legislature to create and enforce a workers’ compensation system for gig workers. It also argues Prop 22 violates the rule that limits ballot measures to a single issue, as well as unconstitutionally defines what would count as an amendment to the measure. As it stands today, Prop 22 requires a seven-eighths legislative supermajority in order to amend the measure.

Don't miss TC Sessions: Justice

I'm spearheading an upcoming virtual event, TC Sessions: Justice, that's going to dive into all of these topics. You'll be able to hear from speakers like AWU Executive Chair Parul Koul, former Amazon warehouse worker Christian Smalls, Uber Chief Diversity Officer Bo Young Lee, Backstage Capital founder and Managing Partner Arlan Hamilton and others.

Tickets are just $5 and you can snag yours here.