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Workers Leaving the Googleplex (andrewnormanwilson.com)
690 points by maverhick on Apr 30, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 391 comments


My Dad once sued microsoft because they had many "temporary" workers who did not get the full benefit of full time workers. These workers were labelled as contract workers however, he was able to win his case because at the end of the day, they were working full time for Microsoft. Not only that, they were often employed by microsoft for many years, even though the claim was generally that these employees were fulfilling a short term need.

He was able to get them damages for all sorts of things, including the fact that they were not entitled to store discounts while other employees were.

Even though he won, many companies including Microsoft still do the exact same thing with their employees. The only difference is they are trying to keep it under wraps so they don't get sued again.

Very likely, Google is trying to cover it's tracks in the same manner. They are probably less worried about racism than they are about this sort of permatemp law suit.

Let's face it, if they were doing something legal they wouldn't care if they were getting videotaped.

From my dad's firm's website: http://www.bs-s.com/cases/c-microsoft-vizcaino.html

> Let's face it, if they were doing something legal they wouldn't care if they were getting videotaped.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt once said, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." It was a preposterous statement assuming that the only value of privacy is to protect one's self when they do something morally, ethically or legally wrong. It was remarkably incorrect and offensive and everyone (rightly) lambasted him for it.

Your statement is eerily similar. I'm not commenting on what Google has done here. But to say that they wouldn't care about being video taped if they were not doing something illegal does not make complete sense.

I agree that people ought to be entitled to keep secrets. But Google is not a person, it is a publicly traded corporation which wields economic power on the same scale as state governments. I don't argue that they aren't entitled to secrets, but if they are, it is for different reasons and the comparison of those rights is misleading.

I would agree. I do think that corporations should not be treated in precisely the same way that individual persons are treated. Corporations have (arguably) far too much power as is.

But I think that the level of privacy that allows one to request to not be videotaped against their will extends to corporations in some circumstances. Unless there is something truly fishy happening here, and there is not much evidence that there is, I believe that Google is within their liberties to be upset over this.

Entitled or not, it's clear that organizations have many reasons to want to keep secrets.

On the contrary, since Schmidt was actually running Google when this incident happened, it would seem to be perfectly applicable. <sarcasm> Or are you saying that Schmidt only meant it for others and not for Google itself? </sarcasm>

I believe Schmidt's statement was about activities online.

I believe his statement also applied to things like your friends uploading embarrassing pictures of you and things like that, which is essentially paralleled here.

I'm sorry, but this 'they wouldn't care' garbage is so obviously wrong that my 'someone is wrong on the internet' reflex has kicked in.

You have never done anything that is legal, ethical, moral, and fine, but you still don't want the whole world to see it? You've never seen a tv report or a youtube clip where somebody took something perfectly fine and tried to make it sinister to get more views? You'd be ok if I decided to truman show your life? And, thinking you'd be ok, you're then willing to inflict that same decision upon others, who might feel very differently about attention than you do?

Star Wars Kid didn't want the world to see him goofing off. I don't want you to have videotape of me bumming around the house on the weekend. An employer would probably prefer that their public image be a planned and staged PR event rather than footage of the christmas party winding down. There's nothing illegal going on, there is nothing sinister about these desires, we just don't want you presenting us to the world in this manner. Why should we?

I worked for a large, international financial data company that was busted for something very similar. In essence they had a large amount of contract employees on premises (hired through a temp agency) that had worked for them for years, at desks amongst the regular employees, with the same email addresses as the regular employees, etc. They were indistinguishable from regular employees except they did not get pensions, paid leave, or any of the other perks of regular employees.

When a few were made redundant due to cutbacks, they promptly lawyered up and were able to settle for a year's worth of compensation, which is what they would have received as regular employees.

In short, if you're a contractor but have a desk in the office and an email address with the company in some cases you are more or less an 'employee', and this has been backed up by courts in the US from time to time.


Your dad's "winning" of the case was a mixed blessing. It did not result in temporary workers becoming real employees with full benefits. Instead, it removed a number of benefits from temporary employees of large corporations all over the country. It also removed the contractor's ability to work for longer than a year at a time without a break.

For example, Intel does not allow temps to use the gym because their legal department worries that might make the division between employee and contractor less solid.

The ruling has created a group of roaming workers who will often work a lesser job for 90 days until they can go back to their big company temp job.

A number of contractors would consider themselves better off if your dad hadn't sued Microsoft. Corporations don't need to do anything illegal for this to be the case.

That churn is a huge PITA and disrupts implementation projects something fierce. The ruling also disrupts team cohesion at some places. I am convinced some of the outsourcing that has gone on is directly tied to this ruling.

why not hire the people that are expected to be doing work for your company for years to come? why they need to be "long-term temps"?

It doesn't make sense. It feels like this is a poor excuse for hiring cheaper labor and get away with hiring as few perm employees as possible.

First, I wasn't "cheaper" labor. The fundamental difference is that the people who build new stuff often are too expensive for maintenance duty. So, a company might have a group of projects that need to be done. Some take multiple years. This ruling really shifted the strategy to an outsource solution instead of a contractor / employee solution.

That ruling kinda screwed up a couple of consulting gigs for me. A couple of companies wouldn't keep people over 12 - 24 months and projects rarely got totally done by then. So they switch to outsourcing (no problem with the lawyers) and the independent contractor (who was making good coin) is pushed out of the picture. The reason was always "The Microsoft Ruling".

> Let's face it, if they were doing something legal they wouldn't care if they were getting videotaped.

That is, quite simply, not true. Companies have all manner of secrets that are important for their business. There's nothing intrinsically nefarious about trade secrets, and those sometimes extend even into soft things like processes and organization. There's nothing illegal about Google's search code, but they sure as hell wouldn't want someone taping that and publishing it.

>> Let's face it, if they were doing something legal they wouldn't care if they were getting videotaped.

>That is, quite simply, not true. Companies have all manner of secrets that are important for their business.

While I agree with you on the "privacy is only for those who have something to hide fallacy", in this case he was filming in the parking lot. If Google had their trade secrets in view from the parking lot, they cease to be trade secrets.

I'm guessing there's a difference (legally) between benefits like health insurance and a retirement account versus luxuries like disneyland trips, massage chairs, gourmet food, etc.

There's nothing surprising about a company having different classes of employees. If that was all that the article was about, it would be a minor curiosity. However, Google's extreme overreaction to someone trying to get some very basic information about the other set of employees is what's concerning. It's difficult to know how much of this story is speculation vs fact - whether or not the yellow badged employees are really data entry, whether there are really instructions on the back of the badge with a number to call if someone starts asking questions. If true, though, it's highly concerning coming from a company that flaunts the openness of their products, and whose corporate motto is "don't be evil".

> Google's extreme overreaction to someone trying to get some very basic information about the other set of employees is what's concerning.

Probably this is what set them off -

"...Most of them are people of color and are supposedly involved in the labor of digitizing information. I’m interested in issues of class, race, and labor, and so out of general curiosity I wanted to ask these workers about their jobs. I am aware of internal mechanisms for discussing labor issues with Google, and had no intention of defaming the company..."

A lot of times you can dig a hole for yourself that wasn't there by trying to explain things. Just a, "Was I breaking the rules? Okay, my bad, I didn't mean to. What was I doing? Eh, just screwing around with a video camera, exploring, I won't do it again if it's a problem" probably gets you out of there without hassle.

I mean, his simple explanation covers mentions race, labor, labor issues, defamation, legal contracts... that would scare the hell out of anyone. If he'd just written, "Hi guys, I'm just learning about Google and I like the company. I didn't mean any harm - I'll make sure not to do that again if it's against policy" then that probably would have been the end of it.


I believe he's advocating not sabotaging oneself while examining issues of class, race, and labour.

The author's ability to investigate this from the inside is now gone, because he got fired.

advocating a self interested "keep your job, stupid" perspective is very much siding in favor of perpetuating the system

I am advocating a "keep your job, so you can continue the investigation, stupid" perspective.

I thought that was clear.

Personally, what I got from that statement was that the author didn't think the issue was serious enough to pursue the investigation, and is an honest person so didn't feel it necessary to conceal his intent.

Google totally made the wrong call here, because as you say, someone who was looking to write a deep, hard-hitting muckraking piece probably would have lied.



I deleted that comment before I saw you replied. But the gist of it:

-It was a descriptive comment - looking at what probably happened, not judging right/wrong.

-I think saying things like, "So you advocate ignoring issues of class, race and labor?" is bad form. If you think class, race, and labor is important, just say "I think it's an important issue." - insinuating someone else's beliefs leads to miscommunication, especially because people skim.

Agreed, sorry.

I believe this is important to explore, and reading this thread saw only Google apologists of every stripe. I wanted (too badly) to see something substantive said. I should have just said it.

I don't think it's highly concerning that a badge has a number for employees to call if someone starts asking questions.

The last three companies I've worked for are very big heavy hitting technology industry names and every single one had a policy that employees are not to give interviews and that if anyone asks you questions, you should refer them to the PR department or other relevant division within the company. This is to avoid situations where some random employee says something unintentionally stupid and it gets promoted to the top of all the sites as official company line. Or to prevent things like, you know, everyone claiming that "Wozniak wants to return to Apple, if they ask him!" when he never said any such thing.

Additionally, you're supposed to report anyone suspicious on the campus, whether they're trying to coat-tail into the building after you badge-in or whether they're snooping around outside and asking questions.

Imagine you hire a big pool of people who punch in a bunch of 10 key or flip pages on a book and press "SCAN" on the machine all day and someone comes snooping around to ask questions about a project (the digitizing of books) that is currently in litigation and some random jackass employee mouths off about something they haven't the slightest clue about and now it's headline news on all the tech industry rags?

Anyway, it's not peculiar or unusual practice. Its' very common. And from what I've seen, this is all speculation. And not even by an employee (or journalist). It's all speculation by a guy who was hired by a company who was hired by Google to get some footage who didn't like the racial makeup of the people he saw walking out of the building for a few days and then started to ask questions of employees who don't know him from any other random guy on the campus filming stuff and asking strange questions.

The way the accusation is made and the whole "expose" is presented is just absurd. Almost surreal, it's so silly. I can't help but think of it in the same light as the internet meme from a couple years ago, where some guys used Glenn Beck's techniques against him by starting up the website "glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com" and then posted the following:

"This site exists to try and help examine the vicious rumor that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990. Why won't Glenn Beck deny these allegations?"

Except, in this case, it's "This video exists to try and help examine the vicious rumor that Google is classist and racist and abuses its employees. Why won't Google deny these allegations?"

"Almost surreal, it's so silly."

The ominous monotone voiceover in the video reminded me of 9/11 conspiracy theory videos.

The only reason I kept watching the video, was because I expected him to drop some huge bomb. It definitely had the "surveilance footage obtained during one afternoon of filming clearly shows two yellow badgers being violently sodomized by the white badged employees, behind the building - viewers of a weaker disposition may want to turn away, now" vibe.

Okay, so do the standard Google employee badges have the same instructions?

It's in their contracts IIRC. You can't talk to the press about confidential Google projects or operations. So they probably expect their software engineers to talk to their manager before giving an interview or writing a blog post for fear of being fired. They have a lot more to lose than a yellow badge.

in technology its normal for a badge to have number to call..when I did temp IT work I once worked as field engineer for MCI Worldcom..due to security, etc at customer sites the badge I wore had a 1-800 number to call if there was any questions..

There probably is a number on the back of the badge to call. There is a lot of ongoing litigation dealing with Google's book scanning.

The simple explanation is that Google doesn't want these workers talking about the work they are doing. The easiest way to keep them from talking is to limit social interactions with other employees, by sequestering them.

Hey, first I am from Egypt.

Second, I have to admit, I am kind of struct by most of the comments here. Most of the comment are pro google and think andrew here got it for himself.

I believe this have to do a lot with cultural differences here. Most people in Egypt, would stand with the employee against the corporation. Most egyptians would definitely be pro andrew. I believe the reason here is that most Egyptians are either employees or owners of very small businesses, and would not perceive themselves as even potentially large business owners. Egypt being a poorer country and all. This is why most Egyptian would never try to put themselves in google's foot and try to see things from their perspective.

I guess the opposite is true from most of the ppl commenting here, they must think if I was google, I would have done the same, and it's probably because they don't see it as too far fetched. Either that or the western population is becomming alarmingly submissive to authority and unwilling to question their action.

Google are clearly being unfair, this should not be acceptable.

You have to understand that in the US there has been a significant anti-labor campaign, both in the media and in politics for at least the last 40 or 50 years. It's been reasonably effective, and took serious hold in the 1980's - many of the posters here have grown up in a world where labor issues are mostly only discussed in a context of how worker demands are holding back corporations. It's difficult to not have your attitudes effectively co-opted if you're only exposed to one side of the argument for most of your life.

I don't interpret the responses here as anti-labor. There hasn't been much or any union-bashing or pro-big-corporation sentiment on this thread.

Rather, I think most of those who have criticized Andrew are responding to his seeming naivete. I say "seeming" because I'm skeptical that he didn't see this coming. Would he not have been able to guess that his emails would escalate the situation, rather than defuse it?

When you say you're videotaping employees to explore issues of race and class, it sounds like you're doing an exposé. That may or may not be your intent, but when you combine race, class, and unauthorized videotaping in your project summary, it kind of pigeonholes you into the exposé genre.

So Google was worried that Andrew was going to ask leading questions, pull some quotations out of context, tie it all together with pointed narration, and put it on YouTube with a title like "Race and Class Warfare at Google."

Maybe Google shouldn't have jumped to that conclusion; maybe they should have spent more time with Andrew and ascertained exactly what he was planning before having him fired. Or maybe they should take a more liberal view and declare a universal policy of free speech by employees and contractors. I'm not saying Google acted exactly as I'd have hoped, but it seems to me that they acted predictably, if nothing else. The only thing that surprises me is that Andrew didn't expect this to happen.

Oh, so people who view the world differently than you do so because they've been brainwashed by the media and politics their whole life, whereas you are able to see through all of that and clearly perceive the unbiased truth. That must be a heavy burden for you to bear.

But it's good to know you're around. I'll be sure to seek you out for my re-education next time I start to suspect I might have been co-opted.

We are asked to have opinions on far more things than we can possibly digest and reasonably evaluate ourselves. For this reason, we outsource most of our opinions to others we trust - our family, our teachers, our friends, the media, the state etc. This is the basis for propaganda, advertising, public relations and the like.

The fact that repeated messaging on one side of an issue will shift public opinion in aggregate towards that side is well accepted. This does not contradict the idea that some people will reach that same position independently.

It does suggest, however, that when comparing two populations the one subject to just one side of a subject since birth will be more likely to agree with that side on average than the population subject to no messaging or messaging from the other side. This fact does not actually suggest anything about correctness.

As an aside, I understand this is a heated issue for many, but I'm not sure your tone improves the discussion.

You generalized my generation and "many of the posters here on HN" as being "co-opted" and basically not thinking for ourselves.

This is the wrong board to go making that kind of assertion dude.

Are you saying there hasn't been a significant anti-labor campaign the last 40 years?

Take a look at attitudes towards American Labor in the 50s-60s and now. Big difference, right?

Are you saying there hasn't been a significant anti-labor campaign the last 40 years? Take a look at attitudes towards American Labor in the 50s-60s and now. Big difference, right?

Sure there's a difference, but I wouldn't attribute even half of that difference to some kind of vast propaganda campaign.

You've got most of the working class opposed to the idea of organized labor during a period of time when working class salaries have stagnated and shrunk relative to baseline inflation, and definitely shrunk relative to household costs like healthcare and gasoline.

Yeah, I'm sure they're against it because they're scholars of austrian economics. They probably read Hayek to their kids when they get home from their shift at the Sunoco.

Here's a question. Read my first paragraph again, that's all basically true.. how often is that picture painted in the media? Almost never? How often is the opposite picture painted of unions being a bunch of quote "thugs"? Hmm.. That sure sounds like a multi-decade propaganda campaign to me.

> working class salaries have stagnated and shrunk relative to baseline inflation, and definitely shrunk relative to household costs like healthcare and gasoline.

The way "baseline inflation" is measured (through the CPI) involves a growing baseline. Salaries/incomes have stagnated relative to that not-really-a-baseline, but that's not really a meaningful way to look at working class economics.

I know yummyfajitas has challenged you on this point in the past, and I don't recall seeing you ever answer it, so I'm going to repeat it: over the time period in question, can you produce any reasonable list of "household costs" under which working class families now are not better off than working class families in the 1960s?

Even gas prices aren't very far outside the norm. In 1960 a gallon of gas was 31 cents and the "national wage index" was right around 4000; at the start of this year a gallon of gas was $3.09, and the most recent NWI data I can find (2009) was just over 40,000. This summer's run-up is not out of line with past fluctuations.

Sigh. Guess I'll have to retract my comments, in light of how great the working class has done the last 15 years or so.

This isn't an argument about statistics and how to fudge them (seriously spend some time in NH or KY or MI, take a look at what your company pays for your healthcare and contemplate paying that out of pocket on minimum wage).

This is about whether or not unions have been systematically demonized for the last 30 years (they have) and whether advertising works (it does).

> This is about whether or not unions have been systematically demonized

Then why were you talking about how badly the working class is doing, particularly due to health care and gasoline costs, both in the previous post and this one? You can't argue something and then declare it off-limits for discussion because we're really talking about some other point.

If you want to talk about how the working class is doing, face my question directly, instead of dodging it with a sarcastic jab about how great the working class is doing. Explain how working class people have a harder time affording any reasonable list of goods from the 1960s vs today.

I will grant you that health insurance is ridiculously expensive, with the caveat that insurance is a stupid way to pay for most health care. I will argue further that even once you account for the massive increase in health care costs, the working class is generally much better off financially than in the 1960s (speaking of fudging statistics, how about the sudden shift from "the last 40 or 50 years" to "15 years ago at the height of an economic boom / asset bubble"?)

I've known a lot of people who became cynical of organized labor because of their personal experiences with it. Corruption and violence in labor unions exist in reality, not just in the media--as do more mundane problems.

Also keep in mind that American unions are different from European unions. I believe that in Germany, unions are routinely major shareholders in the companies their members work for. This is a very good system, because it incentivizes the union to favor fair outcomes that are beneficial to workers without damaging the value of the company. American unions actively resist this arrangement.

His username is "trotsky". If he's serious about that, you are probably not going to have a productive topic of this issue with him.

It's not that we think Google did it because they were hiding something but imaging those insinuations he was making end up in the press, and snowball, they decided they didn't want to deal with it and let him go, which is completely legal in most of the US with no reason needed.

Employment in the US is at-will or whatever it's called. You can leave your employment when you want and your employer can fire you when they want. This can obviously be overridden by a contract. I don't know what his said but it probably put some severance package in there. (1 month pay or whatever).

Not that might sound crazy why would that be OK but I prefer to work for someone who wants me to work for them then have some laws telling them they can't fire me without some crazy reason and have to go through a large process to do so.

As for the 4 classes of employees, I dunno about that but I mean those perks aren't rights they are used to entice people to work for a company and stay there. If they can get employees without them then why not. It's a for profit thing is it not?

And all this is why you can just go out and start your own company and never have to deal with that stuff ;p

Presumably most Americans see this as a matter of individual rights. He can say whatever he wants and Google is free not to associate with him.

yeah - it's (some) americans. [edited] their response to power and its abuse depends on the source: they don't care about corporations, but go crazy with the government. it's as though they have been completely indoctrinated by massive corporate interests...

welcome to the internet :o(

... their response to power and its abuse depends upon the source: they don't care about governments, who have the power to kill you, seize your wealth, or do anything they'd like, leaving you with no claims for redress, but go crazy with corporations, who at worst can offer people shitty jobs (!) or charge too much for shitty products.


Germany here. I'm with you on this one. But you must understand that HN is full of to-be-millionaires who are pursuing the american dream. Morality has no place in their lives.

I'm European too (UK). Disagree with you on this one. Firstly, HN isn't "full" of people who are chasing wealth. There seems to be a broad mix of employees and employers/entrepreneurs here.

Secondly, your assumption that wealth creation and becoming 'rich' are antonymous to morality is (IMO) invalid. Sure, there are examples of 'big bad evil' capitalism being at odds with morality, but overall I would argue that wealth creation and becoming 'rich' tends to involve producing quality (software, goods, services - whatever).

And producing quality is often a win-win situation (a win for consumers as they get quality, and a win for the producers/business owners as it helps them financially). And I do honestly believe that aiming for quality isn't just a means to an end - in other words, I think that aiming for quality will benefit everyone in the company (including the employees) - not just the end users.

So fundamentally I'd disagree with your assessment on wealth generation = lack of morality.

Is there some law that says it's impossible to pursue riches and simultaneously be a moral person?

I'm European too by the way. Your comment is inflammatory and unnecessary.

I'm an American (but grew up in Panama).

My experience in the U.S. is that Americans tend to believe a company has no moral responsibility beyond maximizing profits and not violating laws. Even when companies do violate the law (Enron, Horizon, Chevron, etc.) there is a segment of society that rushes to minimize the wrongdoing.

My anecdotal experience on HN is that a lot people on the site defend the pursuit of money over what I consider greater moral considerations. I can understand the perspective of the person you responded to. His/her comment was inflammatory and you are right about that.

To answer your question though, I do believe that it is roughly true that pursuing riches makes it harder to be a moral person. It's not impossible but I do believe it is harder. It is my belief that in a majority of cases one's morality and perception of what is right/wrong/acceptable changes for the worse as they acquire more money.

I believe it is true that the love of money is the root of all evil (as a rough approximation).

Thanks for taking the time to offer a balanced opinion. I find myself largely agreeing with your sentiments.

I think there must be a better balance to be struck between the approach taken in Europe (seen as too difficult to fire people, which isn't conducive to a healthy business environment) and to the American approach (you can be fired at-will).

I myself like to watch US-based documentaries like Gasland, Food Inc., Inside Job and Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater story. I know these stories are biased, but I'm silently horrified by the sheer extent to which the odds are stacked against the good of the ordinary person in favour of big business. For example, in the film "Inside Job" an IMF banker made the extraordinary revelation that a Wall Street banker basically said to him in a meeting: "Please regulate us. We're too greedy. If you don't regulate us we'll continue to cause markets to blow up because we can't help ourselves." This was before the bailouts, so the banker was genuinely terrified that the banking system would utterly collapse and that they would lose everything.

Also important however, is to ponder on why America is so rich and why America to a large extent drives the global pace of innovation. There are smart, ambitious people there who can get access to capital and raw talent that is unavailable anywhere else in the world. These conditions must have sprung up in America for a reason - the environment was fertile enough for them to take root. By having a thriving, innovative economy, everybody wins. The standard of living improves for everyone. You get to keep your sovereignty by being rich - just look at the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain). They lost economic sovereignty (except for Spain, but it could happen to them too) by being economically weak. (You can also lose political sovereignty if you are poor, as you can't afford all the military hardware to fight off an enemy). I would urge you to read "The Ascent of Money" by Niall Ferguson. He makes excellent points as to why money, and innovations like bonds, stock and insurance actually drive countries forward. For example, the riskiness of the Dutch voyages to the far-East in the late 1500s onwards were mitigated against by forming a limited-liability company, where stock could be sold to ordinary investors. If it weren't for this innovation, then the risk of the voyage would have turned people off from financing such a risky prospect. The voyages were highly successful overall and a remarkable new financial innovation was born. I think what you see in America today is a mix of these very good ideas with some very bad ideas too.

"To answer your question though, I do believe that it is roughly true that pursuing riches makes it harder to be a moral person. It's not impossible but I do believe it is harder. It is my belief that in a majority of cases one's morality and perception of what is right/wrong/acceptable changes for the worse as they acquire more money."

Money certainly seems to change people (can't say first hand because I'm one of those aspiring millionaires!) I think if you have a solid moral compass to begin with, and realise just because you may be wealthier than someone else doesn't make you better or more important than them, then you will be ok. This is probably difficult as you've mentioned. However, look to the likes of Warren Buffett - he's giving nearly all of his fortune to charity. Or Elon Musk, who is using his wealth trying to advance electric vehicles because the incumbents either can't or won't, and to further space exploration also. Or Bill Gates, who after a career being accused or being a bully and a monopolist, seems to be using his wealth and privileged position to try to make the world a better place. So there is cause for optimism for being wealthy doing the right thing.

"I believe it is true that the love of money is the root of all evil (as a rough approximation)."

My take is that the blind pursuit of money, to the detriment of other considerations, is the root of (some/all) evil. The lack of money causes a lot of evil too.

I like your rephrasing of my statement on the love of money. You wrote:

"My take is that the blind pursuit of money, to the detriment of other considerations, is the root of (some/all) evil."

My feeling is that as you get more money, as it becomes more of a goal to you, the more likely it is that you will pursue money to the detriment of other considerations.

I'll have think about your last statement. The one about the lack of money. My initial response, without really thinking about it, is that I don't agree with it.

"Is the U.S. rich in happiness? contentment? My perception is no."

Happiness is relative. Struggling to scrape by on a dollar a day, and wondering where your next meal is going to come from must be pretty awful. Perhaps more people should do volunteer work to realise just how lucky we have it in the west. I think that by being wealthier, you can "move up" Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs[1], and if you reach 'self-actualisation' i.e. you are intellectually fulfilled, have pride in your work and accomplishments etc., that that is it's own kind of happiness. I agree that you are never going to achieve any kind of happiness by simply pursuing some arbitrary dollar amount. That is a fool's game. Beyond a certain point increasing your bank account balance is a meaningless exercise.

The second and third paragraph mention some things are are an unfortunate byproduct of an industrialsed nation. They are also arguably unnecessary - the means are there to combat obesity, products made by slave labour, destruction of the environment etc. I don't really have a good answer for these. It's important to note that some of these things can happen in a poor country too - I remember in the movie "Black Hawk Down" that the soldiers were admiring the lovely view of the ocean, but they were warned to not go in as it was extremely polluted. It probably wasn't the Somalians that polluted it though!

"Your point appears to be that financial innovation (money pursuits) can and sometimes do lead to benefits for society." It all depends. If you are a seller of Credit Default Swaps in Goldman Sachs circa 2006, you probably know in your heart and soul that what you are doing is highly destructive to society. But dammit, you need to hit your annual bonus, so you sell, sell, sell. Good inventions can be twisted in destructive ways.

All human systems and artefacts are imperfect. They are also morally-neutral. Think of nuclear power. When it was discovered, the idea was to bring really cheap electricity to the masses. As it turned out, the electricity wasn't cheap and the most horrific weapon ever created was unleashed. Or even a car - you can use a car to help an elderly neighbour get into town, or use it to escape from a bank robbery. And so on.

"As a counter, I'll offer this up. The great scientific discoveries of the world were not done for money. Newton would not have been a better mathematician had he been paid more. Human progress, largely, comes from people who like to solve problems. Who are curious about the world and want to understand it. A society that gives such people the means to pursue their intellectual passions is one that progresses."

True - but one must also pay the bills. You could work on your passion with great dedication and focus, if only for that pesky matter of money. Look at pg - he solved his money problem by selling Viaweb, and used his newfound time and wealth to help young up and coming entrepreneurs to launch and grow their businesses. If you ever see pictures of him, you know he just loves every minute of what he does. He does a great job because he cares deeply about nurturing entrepreneurship. But if he didn't have the time and money to do YC and had urgent bills to pay, things would be different and the world would be a worse off. Also, watch "The Secret History of Silicon Valley". Steve Blank details how Silicon Valley wouldn't exist today without defense funding from the government. We wouldn't be having this conversation if the US didn't spend so much on military research!

On a related note, I was watching the BBC one morning and the question was posed to (I think) a historian: why couldn't the renaissance have happened in England? He gave two reasons, one was that England at the time was consumed in civil war, and the other was that the Catholic church was a major patron of the arts. Money again. By having such a wealthy benefactor willing to fund them, artists like da Vinci could create works of art like La Pieta[3]. A similar virtuous cycle exists today in Silicon Valley, with investors willing to place big bets on tech innovations that may or may not work. See the parallel? Those with money, but less skill (the Church, VCs) are willing to fund those with the skill, but not the money (hackers, artists).

"I would argue that a better system needs to be developed because the downsides to the pursuit of money are quite bad and will lead to a world with it's resources plundered."

Money, stock and bond markets are just a human construct that reflects human faults and failings, mood swings and fear and greed. Although it's imperfect, the capitalistic system is the best system we've come up with so far. It emulates evolution, which is probably why it beats communism and other alternatives. Hopefully it will continue to evolve to the betterment of all.

On the lack of money causing evil, just look at the piracy situation off the coast in Somalia. There is no jobs or way of earning a decent wage there. So they turn to piracy as it's they only way to actually make money in that unfortunate country.

[1] http://www.ruralhealth.utas.edu.au/comm-lead/images/Maslows-...

[2] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTC_RxWN_xo

[3] http://pwlawrence.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/M...

A problem solver needs enough money (have the means) in order to pursue solutions. I don't think a great scientific discovery has ever been made because the discoverer wanted to get rich. Capitalism provides an allocation mechanism so that money (the means of discovery) makes its way to enough problem solvers. Capitalism might even be the best mechanism for doing this to ever be practiced.

We agree on these points (so it seems to me from what you've written).

Where we appear to have divergence is in my belief that

1. Capitalism does not do an adequate job of dealing with negative externalities.

2. The general mind altering, world view altering aspect of money acquisition makes dealing with the negative externalities difficult. The "I've got mine, fuck you" attitude that is prevalent amongst the monied class in the U.S. makes me think that it is especially difficult in the U.S. for things to change for the better.

3. The rate of resource destruction, pollution, etc., along with 1) and 2) makes me think that world will become one big, giant toxic shit hole before adequate steps are taken to deal with the negative externalities and by that time it will be too late.

My personal belief is that it is highly unlikely the human race will survive the next 200 years in anywhere near the numbers it has today.


As to defense spending. It is true that Silicon Valley exists because of defense spending. I don't believe it is true that it would not exist (somewhere else perhaps) without defense spending. I think progress would still have occurred in computing and technology without defense spending.

Thanks for the discussion.

That's a fair summation.

Regarding number 1, there's no divergence, I agree with you 100% on capitalism not dealing with negative externalities. I think that no financial system we will ever come up with will ever be perfect.

Regarding 2, this appears to be a disadvantage one must accept with a capitalist system.

Regarding 3, I would be more positive. I think technology and human ingenuity will overcome pollution eventually, maybe by nanotechnology or clean tech etc. Maybe even human colonies in outer space, like the movie Wall-E or something. In the 1960s there was a theory that the world's population would grow faster than our ability to feed it. The Haber-Bosch process now feeds one-third of the world's population.[1]

Good talking to you. It's good hearing different perpectives on these issues.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haber_process

Thank you for your response.

Your fourth paragraph touches on what I see as a deep seated problem in American society and a problem that will happen in Europe if current trends continue. Your use of the word 'rich' is synonymous with money and material things. This focus on money has lead to what I call the "I've got mine, fuck you" attitude.

Is the U.S. rich in happiness? contentment? My perception is no. The nation is getting fatter, more lethargic, less able to cope with problems, and is focused on acquiring more stuff. Not everyone in the world can live the American lifestyle because there aren't enough resources.

This is not a problem just with America but, as in many things, America is in the lead. Our consumption has led to a giant plastic garbage patch in the Pacific ocean. Our focus on money and getting the best deal has to led to us importing items made with child labor, slave labor, and in oppressive conditions. This is not unique to Americans, it's a human trait. We need better regulation to mitigate these bad traits but it isn't going to happen in the U.S. (at current trends) because the focus is on money. Money and the preservation of it is trumping decency and morality. (Again, as I see things.)

Your example of Dutch voyages in the 1500s is an excellent one. Your point appears to be that financial innovation (money pursuits) can and sometimes do lead to benefits for society. I'll have to think about this for a while before knowing whether or not I agree with it. It sounds plausible.

As a counter, I'll offer this up. The great scientific discoveries of the world were not done for money. Newton would not have been a better mathematician had he been paid more. Human progress, largely, comes from people who like to solve problems. Who are curious about the world and want to understand it. A society that gives such people the means to pursue their intellectual passions is one that progresses.

That natural conclusion from your examples and what you've written is that capitalism (pursuit of money) is a great way to accomplish this. I would argue that a better system needs to be developed because the downsides to the pursuit of money are quite bad and will lead to a world with it's resources plundered.

Lastly, I'll point out that Warren Buffet stopped talking to one of his granddaughters because she talked about wealth to a guy making a documentary on wealth and what it does to people. I don't think I'm better than Warren Buffet and so I think I'd probably do the same thing he did if I was in his shoes. So I think money would change me and my perception of right and wrong. Presently I'd never disown a relative because they talked about wealth and what it does to people.

Great summary, thanks!

look to the likes of Warren Buffett ... Or Elon Musk ... Or Bill Gates

To put things into perspective: Stanford, Carnegie Technical Schools and Mellon Institute of Industrial Research (merged into CMU), Duke, Cornell and I think some other of the best American universities were founded by the donations of wealthy industrialists.

Slight nitpick, the PIIGS countries (great acronym btw) didn't lose their sovereignty just by being weak.. they lost their sovereignty by being having a bubble blow up without enough background economic strength to withstand it, plus due to some facts of life as an EU member.

Lots of countries are economically weaker than them but didn't blow up a bubble on themselves.

Was the voiceover being done in a closet in a Google lobby or is there another reason for the depressed monotone? I mean, I understand we're trying to be moody and ominous here, but the voiceover could have been retelling the story of the Human Centipede and I'd have probably fallen asleep (or wanted to shoot myself).

I'm not defending Google, here, because I don't know anything about them beyond what everyone else knows from the outside. However, what do you expect the reaction to be when you are an employ for a company contracted to provide services to a client who grants you certain access and privileges which you then abuse to pursue your own interests and investigations outside of the scope of what you were employed to do?

Hell, at the end of this video, I'm still unclear what point is trying to be conveyed. Is it just "the racial balance of the employees that I saw exiting the building for two days didn't meet some proper balance I had in my head, so I decided to start doing a socio-economic documentary on my employer's dime and after everything went to shit, because of how I was conducting myself, I put together a ten minute video to explain myself to future employers"?

I saw a lot of smiling faces exiting the building and getting into nice cars. I don't see what the big deal is that people who are temporary or part of menial data-entry labor are not part of the greater events and benefits and festivities of the company. I'm sure it's that way at most companies. I'm on the development side of things and I don't get to go to the big sales-team getaways in Cancun or wherever else they go. And I doubt that the janitorial staff and security staff are sharing in the staff-bonus compensation that I am. And none of us are getting the several million dollar company loans to buy our mansion that CEOs have gotten.

Perhaps this will be an unpopular sentiment, but I just got a strong vibe of "this is my chance to be a documentary film-maker".

You missed the point: the guy was fired for recording conversations with other employees. After being given permission from his supervisor to do exactly that. On his lunch break. Wtf is that all about?

That is incorrect. He was not given permission by his supervisor to record conversations with other employees.

He only asked for permission to videotape yellow-badges leaving the building. Nothing more. Unless someone wants to show me where I am missing a statement, I don't see any point at which he even claims that he was given permission to film and interview employees - much less about the issues he has taken it upon himself to "investigate".

That it was done on his own lunch break and supposedly using his own tape doesn't seem very relevant. My free time is my own, but my company wouldn't appreciate it if I was using my lunch time to bother my employer or one of their clients.

From the video/transcript: "Eventually I asked a superior on my team if I could borrow a camera to go out in the parking lot and videotape the yellow-badged workers leaving the 3.1459~ factory."

If he had asked permission to take a camera out and videotape interviews with people leaving the building so he could investigate the socio-economic aspects of Google employment of Google's ScanOps team, I think it is safe to say that his employer would have told him to STFU and get back to his actual work and there would have been no problems. He took advantage of the situation to push an issue his employers were not aware that he was pursuing which then put them and all of their other employees and their contract with Google in a tenuous position. Not necessarily because "ooh no, he's going to find out we have lots of people of a certain race working in that building", but most likely because they hired some guys to get a job done and not be a thorn in someone's side.

You're splitting hairs. He was given permission to film the yellow badge people. On his lunch break. Using Google equipment. The latter two are the reasons given for his termination and not, as you imply, because he was "bothering people" or not doing "actual work".

The whole affair seems to me a severe overreaction considering they could have just sat the guy down and talked the issue through.

Yeah, I came away with a couple things:

His tone and mentality feel a bit confrontational (and we're only hearing his perspective), and mentioning the skin color of various people involved seems anachronistic, but...

... at a smaller company, maybe the boss would have just sat down and had a talk with him "look, these people get good wages, and we're keeping the jobs in the US" or whatever. It doesn't sound like it was handled in a very "human" way, where someone directly above him who knows him was given the authority to straighten things out and make sure no further problems occurred.

Legal...security... all starts to sound like "lowest common denominator", and a good reason to work at a startup or small business rather than a large corporation.

(Edit: not that legal, security, etc... are not needed or don't do useful things... it's just inevitably a bit bureaucratic)

>>>His tone and mentality feel a bit confrontational

Likely that way now because he was fired. If it's true he was going to quit soon, and had he done this all the day before he was leaving to feed his curiosity, maybe the tone would be different?

Surely the context of the filming is important though. If he had gone into the bathroom and was filming people using the toilet then it wouldn't be enough that "He was given permission to film the yellow badge people. On his lunch break. Using Google equipment."

He recorded on videotape something uncomfortable, true, and potentially explosive about a multinational advertising firm, which was in a position to cause them bad PR, which is the only thing that could conceivably threaten their billions in revenue and 30% margins.

The only reason this is even in the general ballpark of surprising is that this particular multinational advertising firm has exceptionally good PR, and people want to believe that it would never do this. I mean, they've repeated "We're the good guys" tens of thousands of times, surely it must be true, right?

It's a wonderful company. They make cool products. If you get in their way, they will bury you.

You missed the part where he kept talking about race and unequal treatment and the ScanOps people of being mostly 'people of color'. He said these things explicitly in his letter that Google Legal reviewed.

That is exactly why he was fired. Google did the absolutely correct thing. They don't want to deal with that shit. There's no conspiracy.

> You missed the part where he kept talking about race and unequal treatment and the ScanOps people of being mostly 'people of color'. He said these things explicitly in his letter that Google Legal reviewed.

That was a huge mistake on his part.

> Google did the absolutely correct thing. They don't want to deal with that shit

From whose perspective? What I mean is that it's possible for them to do something that is "absolutely correct" for their own self-preservation / convenience, but that is not correct from an ethical or societal stand-point.

I'm not saying they're doing anything wrong. It just seems that you're angry that the OP wanted to investigate race / class issues.

OP sounded like a muckraking moron, a wanna-be Michael Moore. If you go around interviewing people with an agenda and you get to re-cut the footage however you like, it's possible to get it to seem to support whatever conclusion you want it to - that's why they wanted the tape back. If this guy wants to make a video "as a personal project" to "deal with race and class issues", whatever that means, he should do this entirely on his own, not as a part time project while employed at Google using any Google resources.

It's clear from his tone that OP has a point of view he wants to push - he wants to feel aggrieved at oppression, whether or not there is any. Given that OP was dumb enough to do things the way he did it's not clear he's smart enough to understand that he's being a moron. In this litigious culture, firing OP was a good idea and explaining to OP why he was being a moron wasn't necessarily a good idea. Besides, "some folks, if they don't know, you can't tell 'em."

No accusations were leveled and, as far as I can tell, at best, Google overreacted. To make an analogy: the guy points out the sky is blue and he's promptly fired. Wtf?

To put it bluntly, he was the employee of a company that Google hired to do some work for them and he was bothering employees and then he become someone else's problem up the chain and it then become his direct employer's problem who value their contract and the employment of their other employees over the personal project and whims of someone who was hired to do some film work and not to conduct an investigation into the socio-economic makeup of the campus.

Now that he's no longer employed, he can go ahead with his pursuit without doing it under the advantage of his employment or his employer and I'm sure that if his insinuations are remotely true, then there are sure to be a bunch of people beating down his door for the opportunity to speak with him about their work at Google, under journalistic protection.

Mentioning the word "race", "class", or "gender" in a tech setting is a big no-no. They're huge hot-button words.

It scares people and they counter-attack reflexively, without deeply considering the arguments. That's been my experience from work, Reddit, and HN, in any case.

Notice that I'm not saying anything about the correctness of any particular position on a specific issue. It's that the specifics are barely able to be discussed because people are already in war mode.

I think you bring up a good point, and its also worth exploring why "race", "class" and "gender" are such hot button issues in tech. These are issues that many other very large companies (ex: I've worked for large financial corps in NYC that have vibrant & entrenched diversity programs) have dealt with in much more constructive ways.

So why do these topics blow up so big amongst the valley crowd?

For one thing, wrongful firing and wrongful failure-to-hire lawsuits are common and painful. No one wants to give the employment trolls more ammunition.

> No accusations were leveled

It doesn't matter. That's exactly what was being implied. Google wants to prevent any legal disputes or inquiries into their operations which can be very costly. The guy is a low-level low-importance asset so they had him terminated. It makes perfect sense.

His importance to the Google machinery is irrelevant. According to the post, he was fired for using Google video equipment during working hours. Even though he'd been given explicit permission to do so. At worst he should have been given a warning. I hope, for the sake of consistency, "Carl" was also fired.

> he was fired for using Google video equipment during working hours. Even though he'd been given explicit permission to do so.

Yes they used that as a reason to fire him but that's not why they fired him.

@gradstudent Most employment in the US is at-will; either party can terminate at any time without reason.

It may be technically at-will, but anyone can tell you that you have to be very careful when firing an employee.

Employment may be at will, but the courts are full of lawsuits against employers for wrongful termination/dismissal. If you've ever dealt with a large HR dept you know that one of their main jobs is to prevent lawsuits brought/caused by employees.

"Wrongful termination" is largely a myth. I know a lot of educated professionals who believe they have the right to a "fair" termination, but except for very specific instances, it isn't the case, and these threats go nowhere.

In most cases, unless there is a smoking gun, employers just sidestep the issue by targeting "layoffs", rather firing for cause.

The bigger issue HR deals with is sexual harassment or discrimination cases. And, even nuisance lawsuits can be expensive to deal with, and HR/clerical staff is a lot cheaper than lawyers.

You're absolutely correct about sexual harassment. Many years ago I had a temp job filing records in the legal dept. of the American Medical Association. They had a large filing room chock full of settlement documentation against doctors for sexual harassment.

I myself have witnessed the "layoff with a nice severance bonus". It actually seems to work out nicely for both parties.

I had a boss whose philosophy was "Four weeks severance is cheaper than hiring a HR manager", and it did seem to work out pretty well. The company still had to deal with a 'nuisance' lawsuit, but was something totally out of the blue.

Perhaps things are different in the U.S. but here -- in Australia -- you can only be fired for breach of contract. If that didn't occur, as the blog post seems to suggest, then he was unfairly dismissed.

In CA you can be fired for no reason or any reason except: Age, Ancestry, Color, Creed, Disability, Genetics, Marital status , Nat’l Origin, Race, Religion, Sex, or Sexual Orientation. Every state has a slightly different subset of these factors. Here is a good summary:


As dangrossman points out, above, you can be fired for any reason whatsoever, on the spot. I believe the only protections are sex, race, gender, religion, and age. And as for sex, that means you can't be fired for being a male or a female. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation, for which you can still be fired in something like two or three dozen states. (Look into the ENDA which has been repeatedly proposed for the past 17 years, but never passed -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employment_Non-Discrimination_A... ).

And for those things which are protected, there is often little you can do. Prove that they fired you for being too old and not just because you smelled bad or performed poorly at work or pissed the wrong person off.

It therefore isn't really concerning that someone would not want to deal with the hassle of some jackass and would just ask for him to be fired, instead.

US seem like horrible country to work in. You are expected to donate unpaid overtime to your company, you can be fired on a whim. What else?

It's easy to get hired because employers aren't afraid that they're wedded to you for life.

And you generally make pretty good money - depending on your job of course.

I think 'job protection' is a bit misguided. What makes more sense to me is 'people protection' - that even if you lose your job, you'll still be able to pay rent, eat, etc... It would make more sense to aim for that goal directly rather than force employers to keep people they don't want.

Many states allow ridiculous non-compete agreements.

(Fortunately not California, which is one reason so many startups are located here.)

It's a different settlement. You can be fired more easily, but on the other hand it's easier to be an entrepreneur. Also, because it's easier to fire people, it's easier to hire people, because you know if they don't work out you have options. France is an example of a country where it doesn't work like that.

I'm not sure about being entrepreneur in US. Once I saw blog where someone listed costs of incorporating. Amount you should set aside for health insurance sent chills down my spine.

Also more or less obligatory (if you are sane) usage of legal advice for any contract and such seems like a huge burden usually not present in other countries.

>>>What else?

You are expected to STFU and be a "team player" despite what trouble the team is cooking up.

This person was fired for pointing out systematic racism at google.

If it is true that they have a separate building where the 'people of color' work segregated from the others, that is pretty outrageous.

It really does say something about the corporate culture there.

I hope it is investigated more closely by other parties, and that Google can make it better If there is something like this happening.

And they don't get free ice cream sandwiches when the ice cream truck pulls up. Is that racism or is it economics?

Scanning books is a manual process that is much like sewing or factory work in the repetitiveness. (Maybe less skilled than sewing).

The "racism" of the situation happened years before anyone walked onto the Google campus. The socio-economic opportunities of things like safety, education, nutrition, books, time, parental involvement all feeds in to the situation where the workers in building 3.14 get one level of education and the engineers get another.

If it were true that they were segregating "people of color" then it absolutely would be outrageous. However, it is absolutely NOT true that they are segregating for reasons of color.

It's a red-herring argument.

What if the 4 to 2:30 schedule is to control traffic flow. Setting a non trivial number of workers to arrive and leave at a certain time means that the twice daily 'mega traffic jam' arriving and leaving doesn't happen.

Which puts everyone at their desks longer. Which saves money.

What if the reason that yellow badged workers aren't allowed to freely wander the rest of the google campus is down to security? Would you want low paid wage workers wandering around amongst your industrial secrets?

In a corporation the size of Google there will be a lot of other low-paid workers, secretaries, post-room, catering, etc.

Are they all yellow badge too?

And do they all steal secrets as you seem to imply every low-paid person is bound to do?

Seriously, just because someone is low paid doesn't mean they're any less trust worthy. That's one fucked up world view you have there. Also it doesn't make much sense as it's the higher paid workers who can do the serious economic damage as they know what's actually valuable.

I'm sorry you took my statement to read that I think they're less trustworthy. I don't in any way shape of form believe that they are less trustworthy than anyone else on campus. However, from a security point of view, if you could successfully eliminate 100% of the risk for a given group of individuals, wouldn't you?

Anyways, I've either misspoke or you've misunderstood.

> If it is true that they have a separate building where the 'people of color' work segregated from the others, that is pretty outrageous.

But it's not true and the allegation is so obviously ridiculous that it marks OP as a moron.

When you say "people of color", does that term include people of Chinese descent? Japanese? Indian? You should find plenty of those in the main building, because those races are reasonably well represented among the class of "people who got a CS degree from Stanford (or similar)". Whereas if you look at any section of the business that doesn't require advanced tech degrees, you'll tend to see a different mix.

> It really does say something about the corporate culture there.

No, it really doesn't.

its ridiculous to even entertain the "seperate building where people of color work". The Googleplex itself is filled with "non-Anglos".

Lets all be honest with what we're talking about, and in America what "people of color" really means (in most cases, and probably this one). It means black people. This guy noticed a lot of black people with yellow badges. The yellow badges had a high percentage of African Americans. Much higher than in the Googleplex proper (which probably tracks much closer to their % of the US population). And they (apparently) get less perks. This pushes all sorts of historical hot buttons in the American psyche.

What's left up to us to determine (assuming the veracity of the OP) is WHY this is. The most logical reason why is that the yellow badge jobs are low paying jobs, and the company that is contracting for these low paying jobs draws heavily from the African American community in the surrounding areas.

What is possibly interesting in all of this is the original issue of why low paying jobs potentially are filled by a much higher percentage of blacks than high paying jobs, which unfortunately has very little to do with Google, and a lot more to do with educational opportunities and the breakdown of the family structure in some African American communities, imo, which leads to a skewing of the potential job opportunities from urban American African Americans to be lower paying than anyone would like.

I'd be very surprised if the the building was filled with only 'people of color' but that's not really the point anyway. If you've bothered to actually do any research, you'll find that tons of 'people of color' who are brilliant engineers, lawyers and execs are everywhere in the company, including the top management. If more people of color apply for jobs that do not require high qualifications then that situation is a reflection of society, not some racist conspiracy a certain class of people.

I think you are misinterpreting the story. They have a separate building where low level data entry people work. The segregation is by work function, not race.

First up segregation is not the issue here but this guy's choice of words. The real problem here is if Google responds to any of his comments, on paper it really does look like there's a class issue and then the company can potentially find themselves in hot water. I would shut right up in that situation as well.

The way he keeps saying 'people of colour' and talking about different classes doesn't lend to his cause either, nor going right out with a video camera as it really does look like he is filming an expose. If he was smart, he should have replied he was simply curious as to what these guys do and why the rules are different for this particular group. To elaborate any further than that, well, he dug his own pit there.

> the hassle of some jackass


Well now that we know about it, they just pulled a Barbara Streisand. You can be god damned sure someone's going to go sticking their nose into it now.


test 3

test 5

test 2

test 4

> They don't want to deal with that shit. There's no conspiracy.

I totally agree with you. Why would any Übermensch in his right mind eat and drink in the same room as a yellow-badged Untermensch? That's heresy.

I used to work at Google and the "class system" was something that grated on me from time to time.

I didn't know any yellow badge folks myself, and was ignorant of their existence, just as the article mentions.

But red badges (contractors) are ubiquitous. In one case they fired all the QA contractors and made them reapply for their own jobs -- we're talking about people who had deep knowledge of certain projects, who'd been on certain teams for years, who were valued contributors, people who we didn't want to lose. But because they had a red badge, they were subject to petty whims of bureaucrats from on high, unlike white badges. At least on my team, almost all red badge QA contractors were of Indian origin, and often female.

Now that's not very different from how a normal company works. But Google just made the distinction difficult to ignore since white badges had so many privileges, including, for engineers, the right to reallocate themselves, or to exploit the famous 20% time. Google's image is that they are pioneering a different way of working, with more workplace democracy, but the truth is that these privileges are limited to as few employees as they can get away with.

And of course, the biggest class division has to do with the people who do physical labor and sanitation. I tend to work after hours and I also tend to talk to people even if they're supposed to be "invisible", so I've had conversations with some of the workers. (Ironically, one conversation conducted using Google Translate). That person emptying your wastebasket might be qualified to do nursing back in her home country. Oh, and it might amuse Yahoo employees to know that their recycling program is a complete sham -- everything is emptied into the same trash containers anyway, and the workers are forbidden from taking the cans away to cash in themselves.

Good things to think about if you work for just about any large company. Staying late is a great opportunity to meet the people who work daily for your benefit. You might be pretty surprised with the conversations you end up having. My 2AM talks with our lab's cleaning lady were a surprisingly significant factor in successfully getting through my thesis.

That said, I don't think it's unfair to pay people a standard wage for their particular job, even if others nearby are being paid more for a different job (I'm lumping various perks in with salary to form a general concept of "payment"). This does create an unfortunate sense of division between those who have them and those who don't, but then again I don't think the average janitor is really craving a daily massage.

If this division truly bothers you, there are two great ways to help employees with menial jobs while maintaining a practical respect for the laws of salaries and supply and demand. First: give them healthcare. Second: help pay for their education, or the education of their children. These are far more expensive than access to the company gym, but they're also far more effective.

"I don't think the average janitor is really craving a daily massage." -- He/She is a human being and has as much right as the next person to want a massage (more so because he/she does physical work).

If I'm at home having a soda and the cleaning lady is in the same room, it feels awkward not to offer it to her. In this sense, the workplace is a big room with everybody in it.. it feels weird that some people have access to perks that others don't. So if I'm taking a limo home or getting a free soda and others can't... it just takes the joy of that luxury away. I would feel embarrassed about it and wouldn't want to use that benefit as often anymore.

At my work we've free sodas but I've seen people looking weird at the cleaning staff for taking sodas from the fridge. Why? I don't know and it's just disgusting.

Probably my mom is to blame for all of this thinking. Whenever I got a pack of Cheetos she would say "have you offered it to your friends already?".

We spent most of our time at work so, for me, it feels normal to extend to it the same "rules" I've at home.

By the way, I'm not saying people should have the same salary even though they do different work. Everybody should be paid according to his/her skills. What I'm talking is about the amenities that try to make the workplace a better place. They should be offered to everyone or no one.

Slight point of interest, do you mean the recycling at Yahoo is a sham, or that it would amuse Yahoo employees to know that Google's recycling is a sham?

I should explain, I've worked at both Yahoo and Google. Yahoo's recycling program is a sham, at least for Mission College circa 2007. I don't know about Google.

I've told people about the qualified nurse working emptying wastepaper baskets, but the thing that always makes Silicon Valley nerds go apoplectic is learning that their hard work putting soda cans into the blue container was all for nothing.

For crying out loud, it's not a "class system" it's company hierarchy.

Contract workers are not employees they are temporary hired hands they get fired and reallocated on company whim for company purposes, that is the nature of their jobs, they are easier to fire and hire than full time 401k employees. Not everyone gets the company car home with them.

What disturbs me is that you keep pointing to the fact that they are mostly minorities as if Google deliberately chose minority workers for these jobs, the sad fact is that these low end jobs are typically occupied by minorities.

>it's not a "class system" it's company hierarchy

Well, I don't agree that those things are that different.

But I will agree with you that having a company hierarchy is pretty normal.

>What disturbs me is that you keep pointing to the fact that they are mostly minorities as if Google deliberately chose minority workers for these jobs, the sad fact is that these low end jobs are typically occupied by minorities.

You're right, and I don't mean to imply that Google somehow caused this situation. Like any employer, Google tries to get the most value for its money, and that entails selection of people from particular backgrounds.

It's just that 'class system' exists in society and it's a different kind of animal, that phrase carries a lot of negative political and socio-economical baggage, negativity such as 'monarchs' and 'peasants' and what have you.

In the corporate world however it's just a chain of command, it is used to distill order to some extent and typically is claimable by those who succeed.

If its not a class system, whats the need for color coding badges? Don't you think an electronic badge will prevent and authorize access no matter what color it is.

It's so that security guards and others can enforce area bans just by looking at your badge. For instance, some gatherings might be open only to white badges, some to white + green, the shuttle probably isn't available to yellow badges, etc.

Why do you need security guards to enforce when your badge is electronic(RFID). You swipe your badge everywhere you enter(including cafes inside buildings for which you swipe your badge to enter), especially in a company that is tech oriented. I dont think anyone with a white badge enter without swiping.

there are areas (eg. meetings in cafes) where you don't have to swipe through a security door to get in. these are policed by physical security.

It's the system they chose to keep things in check, I'm not aware of their inner works as I'm not their HR guy, even so color coding doesn't suggest a 'class system' (my gmail labels are color coded) it's a just a system to keep things in order.

I am aware of how electronic badges work and that should keep things in check. Worst case they could ask for their id. My point is the electronic system does keep things in order, so why the color? Maybe they should give violet badge to the 15 people working on the search engine. And similar color to different teams that way it is easier to identify.

> My point is the electronic system does keep things in order, so why the color?

So that humans can also read the badges without a machine. The same reason they put a picture and your name on the badge, even though the machines don't need them.

Why would they make a badge that only the computer could understand?

Fail-safe? I don't know.

Note to young videographers: When a company asks whether you're working on an expose, the phrase "I’m interested in issues of class, race, and labor" will not defuse the situation.

That's hilarious.

His letter to Ralph was so passive–aggressive. I would have left out these nuggets:

1)... now that I know it's so super-secret

2)... are mostly people of color and cannot eat Google meals

3)... I wasn’t approaching this as an act of muckraking

4)... nice way to meet people who work right next to me but are very clearly not the same class as me

> 2)... are mostly people of color and cannot eat Google meals

That's a bummer, because those were indeed people of color who were not allowed to eat Google meals. Well, at least I know why it took you guys in the States 100 years to actually give equal rights to your fellow black citizens: you were all too afraid of losing your jobs.

Assume each "Google Meal" costs $5 in preparation labour, materials, plates & utensils (washing), fittings and fixtures, etc...

261 working days a year 1 employee $5 = $1305 per employee, per year How many workers in the 3.14 building? At 400 employees, that's half a million dollars. Does the board of director's fiduciary duty to their shareholders allow them to pay for the Scan Ops lunches?

I don't know what minimum wage in the states is, but I'm pretty sure most of those workers would rather have that extra five dollars in their pockets and brown-bag it. It's also a lot easier to justify an extra dollar an hour above minimum wage.

"Catered lunches" is a perk that (as far as I know) is very rare. Your company "not buying you lunch every day" is the norm.

I can't see any outrage in their perfectly normal behavior.

You've presented some arithmetic and no information at all. If the story is that these employees are being employed at minimum wage then that's something that contradicts the "Don't be evil" ethos.

Wait, how do you know they're getting minimum wage? I've done lots of temping in my life. Anyone handling anything that requires some brains never gets minimum wage. Hell, once I counted ballots -- and didn't even get miniwage for that. I really doubt Google is giving them minimum wage.

I don't know that they're getting minimum wage, in fact I'd assume they're paid a fair and reasonable wage. Their cars were nice, their clothes not shabby.

All said and done though, my point was that the lunches are an unnecessary and significant cost.

Please explain why employing someone at minimum wage evil.

Employing someone at the minimum wage rate is "evil"?

"I'd pay you even less, but it'd be illegal!"

That perspective assumes pay is the only thing that matters in the bundle of benefits that counts as a job. Given that one can make a job better or worse in zillions of ways, mandating a minimum wage probably makes both the employer and the employee worse off compared to allowing them to reach a free mutual agreement on terms.

It might make employees worse off by reducing their hours, by reducing the training budget, reducing flexibility of work hours, reducing job security...or by reducing perks such as free food.

Here's an example: Suppose you're running a videogame company and you need to test your new videogame. If it were legal, one strategy might be to pay a small army of junior-high kids, say, $1/hour to test your videogame after school. The kids would go for it because they get the ability to play hot new video games in a relaxing, low-pressure environment, with free snacks and drinks and even a small amount of pay, where ordinarily it would cost them money to play videogames. As a side benefit, they'd get valuable exposure to the work environment, make business contacts, possibly discover a new career.

Now pass laws demanding a minimum wage. The junior high kids are priced out of the market; if you have to pay a large wage you'll hire fewer but more qualified people rather than more, less qualified people. Now it's much harder to get started in the field. A $13/hour testing job is a different job than the $1/hour job. More stressful, harder to get, and quite possibly less effective.

So change your quote to "You'd prefer to take less (in exchange for offsetting benefits that are more valuable to you than to me), but offering you that deal would be illegal!"

I don't get this sentiment. I thought that most people with jobs like this weren't getting free meals. I mean, do data-entry workers in your country really get free food, hair cuts, gym access, and cleaning services, among other things? A while back Google offered a million dollar counteroffer to one of its engineers who was going to leave. Do you really expect them to offer millions to a data entry person who is going to leave?

There are over 2 million african americans working for free in USA prisons. I'm not sure they've moved on all that much.

According to the author, they were "contracted to Google by another company." So that could be a consideration for excluding perks that are normally folded into salaries.

When I read that phrase, I was thinking he MUST have known it was going to get him fired.

Of course! What kind of traction would his insinuations have if he hadn't baited them for termination and he had to end the "expose" with "we had a sit down where I explained my intentions and we sorted it all out and had a beer and a laugh". The "and they fired me!" that is intended to add to the suspicion. It causes most viewers to ask "wait, if there was nothing to hide, then why'd they fire him?".

I hope I never have to work for someone who'll fire me if I tell them I'm interested in issues of class or race.

Why would being interested in sociological issues get him fired?

You can claim 'sociological issues' all you like, but when people see you're a fantasist with a laughable view of how the world works, and you're dealing in sly insinuation and race baiting... 'sociological issues' aint gonna cut it.

Well, I say that, but with the naivety on show in this thread perhaps this guy is onto a winner with 'sociological issues'.

I think he just didn't care and preferred to tell the truth than be intimidated into lying.

Honestly, I'm not sure this is a big deal. They're hiring unskilled labor and giving them a role at an extraordinary company. A rational management team wanting to generate profits for risk taking investors and generate new growth, cuts costs by eliminating benefits when possible.

They could easily get this done in India or China. If they are really doing book scanning, I'm shocked this isn't being done in the far east. With that perspective, this isn't far from "don't be evil".

It's not the best practice in the world but this isn't exploitation.

Perhaps it should inspire some investigative journalism. Perhaps Google could fund a program and give these data entry people the opportunity to innovate, rewarding them accordingly with a small scale founders' award?

Despite the assumed background of these employees, they're at Google inspiring their kids. With so few benefits outside of their salary, they can always work elsewhere. But why would they take fast food or something of the sort over this?

I imagine the cleaning crew that vacuum at Goldman Sachs at night get treated way worse.

Apparently Google feels that this situation does not fit the public image they want to project so the want to keep it under wraps.

My opinion is that their behaviour isn't exactly evil and probably not unusual but it's uninspiring, uncreative and not up to standard with their approach to other matters. It's a missed opportunity. They have all these people together on the campus so why would they reinforce the existing social segregation instead of weakening it?

It's not simply a matter of cost or security. What does it cost to let everyone ride the same bus and have them eat in the same place? Maybe the kids of those workers would be more inspired if their parents could tell them about a chat they had with some of the Google engineers on the book search project.

> What does it cost to let everyone ride the same bus and have them eat in the same place?

It's not clear why this contract agency runs on a different schedule than the rest of the company - 4am to 2:30 or whatever - maybe it's just traffic flow, or maybe they work a lot with a group in a different timezone. But the fact that they do run on a different schedule implies it could cost quite a lot to "let everyone ride the same bus and have them eat in the same place". People arriving at work at 4am would need to arrive on different buses than those arriving at 8 - you'd have to hire extra buses just for them, find drivers willing to start driving well before 3am, and hope there's enough concentration that this one building of people rates its own bus stop locations - if they're spread out all over they'd be better served by carpooling. (Not to mention that the reason for Google buses is so employees can get work done during what might otherwise be a long, aggravating rush-hour commute, whereas the commute at 3am/2:15pm is easy and fast)

Similarly, people who arrive at 4am are on a different lunch schedule than the rest of the company so you'd have to operate the cafeteria longer, pay overtime, hire more workers, etc.

That's a lot to do for people who don't even work for Google directly.

UPDATE: Another poster wrote that this group is working in multiple shifts, presumably to get through more books faster with the available facilities. That makes perfect sense - this is the morning shift, then the evening shift arrives, maybe a swing shift after that. Which would make running the kitchens and the buses long enough for everybody really expensive.

It's the combination of all these strange rules and Google's reaction in this case that makes me think the issue is slightly larger than bus schedules.

They pride themselves of creative thinking, they hire lots of academics, even economists and sociologists. Some of these people should be able to figure out a reasonably cost effective way of organizing these things without making the place resemble a 19th century cotton plantation.

> They pride themselves of creative thinking, they hire lots of academics, even economists and sociologists. Some of these people should be able to figure out a reasonably cost effective way of organizing these things without making the place resemble a 19th century cotton plantation.

Wait, so being offered a job that pays reasonably well with decent work conditions but for which you must solve for yourself the problem of how to get to work and what to eat for lunch is now considered oppressive? On the scale of, say, being whipped for not working hard enough?

Are you suggesting that if Google provides any perk at all they need to provide it to every employee or contractor at every company they contract with, including the guys who cut the lawns and the guys who sell them stationery supplies?

No, I'm suggesting that the way they stucture these perks and their security arrangements is not as good as it could be. It creates more segregation than necessary. I think that money works pretty well as a general equivalent and perks that require social segregation are not the best way to pay according to different levels of performance or competence.

I basically agree with this thought, although the perks at Google are great PR and appear to be genuinely adored by the employees. At a certain scale of income (enough) perks probably can make a positive enhancement above what they actually cost (and above what the increased salary if the perks were eliminated would "feel" like).

So, if we assume the perks are working for Google at the high end -- at the low end it seems logical that if those said perks are extravagant enough the feasibility of adjusting the money on the low end down enough to compensate for the low end also receiving those perks becomes very negative to those employees. At the low end pay scales where things like being able to pay rent and afford children, receiving cash money is likely preferable than receiving less money and a limo ride to work.

It is possible more perks in lieu of cash at the high end, and more cash in lieu of perks at the low end is actually the optimal solution to compensation package.

Not any but basic things like eating equally and transportation shouldn't be hard to arrange.

When you have a person being prevented from enjoying the same benefits of others.. and this person can witness this daily, how do you think they feel?

Large companies have forgotten the human side of work. That doesn't mean it doesn't matter.

The surprising thing here isn't that the yellow badges can't use the cafeteria, it's that OP's group could. The rule "the cafeteria is only for Apple employees" would be pretty natural and easy to enforce. If you want to make it so everybody has the same benefits, the easy way to do that would be to remove cafeteria privileges from OP's company. As for "and this person can witness this daily", if OP weren't muckracking, the yellow badges wouldn't know that his group was getting extra benefits they weren't. Anyway, how do they "witness this daily"? It's a big campus and you'd have to go out of your way to go to the cafeteria if you had no access or business there.

Consider that I don't have a company car. I'm sure I could "witness it daily" that other people are being driven to work in their company cars if I knew where to look for it. But since I don't know about it, I feel fine.

And once you know it, you know it.

Personally I would work the other way around, trying to detach myself for all the mundane pleasures (and failing constantly) and seeing how unimportant some perks are. But that's just me. What I see around is lots of hatred speech when people have been forbidden access to these things. It would be wise of Google or any other company to avoid these situations altogether.

There's also some deal in California with commuter tax benefits (I am nowhere near versant in this). That's why employees get free buses but contractors don't (as their company doesn't opt for the benefit, 'cause it costs money).

Of course it costs more - more busses, drivers, meals.

Of course its a 2nd class of worker - if they were Engineers working on a super-secret project, they'd have catered meals, separate busses, social arrangements of their own. Because Engineers are special and desirable and highly paid.

A Google employee is contributing to short-term disability fund with every paycheck, and in case he slips on cafeteria or bus floor, state of California will cover their portion of worker's comp.

A contractor is not eligible for worker's comp, hence any possibility of injury at workplace would make Google liable for contractor's entire medical bill.


This is like saying - 'I gave you a job so now I can treat you the way I want'. This sort of attitude is what fueled passions for communism. It keeps labor unions alive and general strikes perfectly acceptable. Because the employers some how have a attitude that they own employees and they are doing some great favor without which employees would have to starve to death.Giving job to someone is two way business, The guy needs you and you need the guy.

I would take serious offense if my employer tries to behave like god and then treat me like a dog. It hurts more if the treatment is subjective, meaning a few people are treated well and a few aren't. And even more if I'm meted out such treatment solely on the basis of my color, religion or any other thing like for example sexual preference.

To me the most interesting part is that these are not the only unskilled labor being employed by Google. As the video points out, the janitors at google are given access to the many perks. It seem strange that this one group is singled out.

At the same time, this guy was fired, so lets take his testimony with a grain of salt.

I missed the point about janitors getting perks and they not.

But then how do you explain the overreaction from Google which led to the firing of this guy. There has to be something which Google was trying desperately to keep secret.

If I hire you to film some promotional company material for me and find that you're using the access we granted you and the time and resources we're paying you for to play documentary-film-maker/sociologist, I'll probably fire you, too.

Why was it an overreaction? This guy was a contract worker who decided to pursue his own investigation during work hours, taking advantage of the privileges granted to him by Google. They're well within their rights to request his termination or removal from their contract.

Yeah, the weird thing is not the situation of the workers itself, but the total freakout by Google and firing of this guy.

I also wonder if he is going to get in legal trouble with Google for posting this.

We can all speculate and make up theories on a late friday night but the fact is Google has a lot going on. Some of which is probably currently unknown by their competitors. They want to keep it that way. Who knows what these guys are working on. Naturally, this isn't the best PR story ever. They could have handled it better.

Clearly, from this guy's perspective, it was wrong for him to get fired but I'm sure the vendor that was providing him as contracted labor had to make a statement that they wouldn't tolerate this kind of thing. Would you hire a firm to video your office if they didn't fire a guy recording stuff you wanted confidential?

They guy was clearly insinuating that Google was being racist. He kept reiterating that the ScanOps workers were people of color and mentioned it in his letter. Google did the absolutely correct thing in getting him fired. You don't want that insanity walking around your campus and Transvideo didn't want to lose their contract with Google.

They're hiring unskilled labor and giving them a role at an extraordinary company.

Really? They're hiring labor, but treating them as if they have no association with Google. They might as well simply be contractors that work for Jim's Labor Pool.

But why would they take fast food or something of the sort over this?

I don't know what they're paid, but at least from this article I get the feeling that fast food has more upward mobility. I know at least a couple of fast food workers as kids who moved up the ladder and eventually have owned their own profitable franchise. I have a feeling there really isn't much upward growth in this job.

I imagine the cleaning crew that vacuum at Goldman Sachs at night get treated way worse.

Quite possibly, although they're also likely not GS employees. Probably contractors, often contracted by the building.

What I find mind-blowing in this story is not how "4th class" workers are treated like at Google, but rather how the author was fired with no serious reason whatsoever, and the whole secretive atmosphere around the issue.

Minor point of clarification, as the tone of many comments seems to presume that google fired the author of this blog. This could be, but seems unlikely based on the blog.

The author was not employed by Google, but by a contracting firm hired by Google. The author's actions spooked the owner of the contracting firm, who did not want to risk his relationship and business with Google.

The author even reports his direct phone conversation with the owner of the firm. "He told me the issue was very serious because it could jeopardize Transvideos contract with Google and potentially lead to 60 people losing their jobs."

That is, if Google ended their relationship with Transvideo, then the sixty people Transvideo hired to work the Google contract would lose their jobs.

Google security may or may not have asked the firm to fire the author. Most likely, however, I suspect the firm took the decision on its own as the simplest, cleanest and quickest way to end an issue before the lower level google security staff finished drafting a report that may have risked Transvideo's relationship with Google.

So, as the owner of the firm what would you do? The choices are:

a) support an employee who plans to quit in two months, but before he does wants to use his job to investigate "issues of class, race, and labor". The downside is that Google might decide to work with a different firm, thereby causing you to fire the 60 people you hired to support the contract and perhaps lose your entire business.

b) Terminate the employee to protect your business and the sixty people who work to support it.

Not a pleasant decision, to be sure, but the choice seems obvious even if Google says nothing.

From the article: Marco then interjected into Burt’s official explanation to say that Google was actually putting pressure on Transvideo to fire me because of my investigations of the 3.1459~ building and the people who work there.

Indeed. I know of a case in the past where Google expressed concern about something a contractor had done, and the contracting agency immediately fired them. Google then turned around and demanded the worker be rehired with backpay (which the contracting company also did) because the concerns were nowhere near firing level.

It seems that when a customer says "jump", a contracting firm doesn't even paused to ask "how high?"

c) fix the issue.

There is no issue to fix.

What first-world, over privileged bullshit. (Paraphrasing) "The yellow badges don't get the same fancy meals, backpacks, get to ride the multi-colored bicycles, or listen to authors talking for an hour". What utter non-sense bullshit.

"Oh, its a good thing I got fired because I have to go back to grad school."

"I'm going to talk in a post-adolescent semi-deep but monotonous tone for 11 minutes to talk about how Racist Google Is".

I really want to buy this yuppie, preppie child a ticket to anywhere in America that isn't Google or Haaaaaarvard and let him see what its like to grow up on food stamps and welfare in the deep south, or better yet just drop him off anywhere that isn't a modern country.

Despite the downvotes you've gotten (I know PG removed them, but I can still tell by color) I really think you've got a good point.

I honestly felt at least some of the same vitrol that comes across in your post, but suppressed it for the purposes of discussion.

In reading your response, I had quite a cathartic reaction. I actually felt myself relax. (I hadn't even realized I was holding tension - neat!)

Regardless of any other votes you get, thanks for putting up an honest reaction.

Hey Alex, can't find any contact info for ya. Shoot me an email or find me on Twitter, geuis.teses@gmail.com or @geuis

The divide between people from different backgrounds was really obvious to me once I moved to Asia. There's an extreme class system at play. There are certainly places with this is exploited, but this isn't always the case. Often times they are just paid less, have less benefits, and work harder (at least, physically)...but they are still free, treated well, and seem generally happy.

From the description given, there seems to be some parallels between yellow badges and what I've seen in Asia.

I'm not sure that this is a bad thing. We can't all be PhDs earning high 6 figure salaries. There is a need for mundane labor, requiring little education/creativity. Maybe it's weird because it's google, and the juxtaposition is great. But what's the difference between doing in in the Valley and outsourcing it to China/India? If Google did outsource these jobs, people would just be QQing about that instead.

As for the race angle, it's hardly Google's problem/responsibility. This is a fundamental cancer within the US that requires serious effort/rethinking required to even begin to address the situation.

> There is a need for mundane labor, requiring little education/creativity.

Well actually there has not been any real need for that for years now. With automation we could replace all those "dull" work places.

But the problem is: What do we do with the now unemployed masses? If we want to keep our capitalistic system that is.

> Well actually there has not been any real need for that for years now.

Really. You think OCR technology is at the point of sophistication or expense such that it would be economically beneficial for Google to deploy such technology over hiring humans but they don't do so to maintain our "capitalistic system"?

You think there's some conspiracy of corporations to waste money on unskilled labor to maintain capitalism?

See, economical benefit. There's the problem. I say it's possible but not with our current form of society.

> You think there's some conspiracy of corporations to waste money on unskilled labor to maintain capitalism?

Think about it and answer this question for yourself.

I've heard Google accused of having a "caste system" before, always because contractors aren't allowed X Google perk.

They may not realize that Google walks a fine line with the IRS here. Its cheaper to pay contractors (write off the fees vs. payroll tax, for instance), so many companies use contractors like employees. This is illegal, and if the IRS decides your contractor is really an employee, they will force you to pay taxes as such.

So Google must be careful to maintain a clear distinction between employees and contractors. I suspect the badges and tiered privileges are just that.

He did mention "red badge" contractors having more privilidges than "yellow badge." I can't speak to that, and perhaps Google does need to take a hard look at its hiring practices. But it seems more likely to me that the OP is encountering a feature of our tax system, not a deliberate attempt to underpay minorities.

I think your confusing two separate things. Independant contractors that receive a 1099, and "contractors" where a company pays another company for services.

The IRS doesn't care if companies contract services from other companies. They don't like full time employees being treated as 1099 employees because tax collection is more difficult. 1099 employees, as independent business owners, can write off many expenses which are hard to audit and result in lower tax revenue.

So Google must be careful to maintain a clear distinction between employees and contractors. I suspect the badges and tiered privileges are just that.

This is not true. I have been a contractor at big companies before, and the only way anyone knows the difference is your badge and title in the corporate directory. Other than that, everything is the same.

You get a W-2 and everything.

Lots of people are commenting that maybe the yellow badges might be working on something secretive that Google does not want them to share with others. But this does not make sense for 2 reasons - 1) I am pretty sure there will be some software engineers in Google who are currently working on something secretive but they will not be under these draconian restrictions of not to talk to others or call the security immediately if a fellow Googler approaches them.

2) These ppl can go home and can talk to their spouses, their friends etc. and let them know what they are working on. So making sure that they don't talk to anyone in Google during their office hours is not going to help keep their projects secretive.

So there has to be some other angle to this story which does not involve secretiveness of their projects.

It sounds curious that people with a yellow badge are forbidden to speak to people with badges of another color.

If that's true, Google has some explaining to do, methinks.

Why wouldn't Google want them talking to other employees? Could it be b/c they are working on a confidential project?

Large companies work by inertia. Google is actually more agile for its size, but it's still a big company and ruled by inertia.

In a large company, the majority of people don't know each other, and don't communicate on a daily basis. This means that things of interest get passed from person to person, usually by email, and so the original intent of the message tends to get lost due to the 3rd or 4th reader having no idea what kind of person the original writer is, what his writing style is, whether he's being serious or joking, etc.

As a result, you end up with lots of requests for clarification, especially where it's an event that falls outside of the normal routine. It takes a lot to rile up a company, but Andrew did it expertly, pushing all the buttons his background in sociology and politics gave him a solid understanding of.

Notice how it went through three separate "request for clarification" requests, each more formal than the last. Each time, he responded in a passive-aggressive manner that re-pushed those same buttons.

As it pushed its way through the various departments and echelons of the company, such a message would become more and more threatening as the person became less and less known. People go into CYA mode (better safe than sorry), the company momentum changes and things start rolling.

Let's look at the course of events again:

1: Andrew is intercepted by someone who is probably a manager (notice his description "Agitated Chubby White Male", with the connotations of bourgeoisie).

2: The manager takes Andrew to explain the situation to security (pointing out that the security guard is a black man in a menial job, with "sedate" added for connotations of passively accepting his proletariat fate).

3: Security contacts Transvideo to get clarification from Andrew and find out his intentions (notice his description "so that the issue can be filtered and separated neatly into their bracketed accounts", with the connotations of the soulless bureocratic corporate machine).

At this point, the security department is unsure of Andrew's intentions. Was it just harmless curiosity? Is he a plant, trying to dig up dirt to embarrass Google? They can't know for sure, so they ask him to clarify his position.

What Andrew sends back is a passive-aggressive letter covering class, race, and labor, all hot button topics. His manager asks for even more clarification. People are getting very nervous at this point.

Andrew's response is political dynamite, once again using passive-aggressive techniques to all but accuse Google of racist discriminatory labor practices.

That someone with "backgrounds in sociology and political philosophy" wouldn't understand what panic his second letter would produce is incredibly hard to believe. In fact, Andrew's entire description is so slanted and colored that I'm inclined to suspect that he deliberately set about getting himself fired so that he could trumpet "Google is Evil!" from his blog, Michael Moore style.

I think you are wrong in your assertion that "it takes a lot to rile up a company". It takes very little, as you can see from his story.

Just pointing out blindingly obvious facts of privilege, race, and class can cause large companies to shit themselves.

That's the point.

You see his statements as passive-aggressive. They aren't. Passive-aggressive is something like "I respect your right to your opinion, no matter how steeped in white male professional privilege it may be." His statements are completely factual, even underplayed. I didn't even hear any ill-will towards the company (that just fired him, and threatened to fire his friends and co-workers), any conclusion about Google or TransVideo's actions, or indeed anything other than mild interest in people who didn't come from the same background.

Now, we don't know what really happened, other than his own account. But I find the story credible.

> Passive-aggressive is something like "I respect your right to your opinion, no matter how steeped in white male professional privilege it may be."

Or something like "found it interesting that these workers, who perform labor similar to that of many red-badge contractors, such as software engineers, custodians, security guards, etc., are mostly people of color and cannot eat Google meals, take the shuttle, ride a bike, or step foot anywhere else on campus."

Or "I was not aware of how secretive the Book Search project is"

Or "understand how seriously my curiosity could jeopardize not only my own job and Transvideos’ relationship with Google"

> His statements are completely factual, even underplayed.

His statements are very slanted. "chubby white man", "extremely confidential area", "filtered and separated neatly into their bracketed accounts", "Ralph, the millionaire who owns Transvideo", and others I mentioned previously are carefully crafted to paint Google (and Transvideo) in the light of not only an exploiter of minorities, but also a petty company that cares more about their data integrity than people.

> I didn't even hear any ill-will towards the company

There's plenty of ill will and contempt there, seething beneath the surface in that passive-aggressive voice.

The credibility of the story isn't the issue, the issue is it's sensationalist nature

These are the contract workers of a company that was hired by Google and as it is typical of contract workers and low wage jobs they are mostly (and sadly) minorities.

They don't have access to Google's perks because they are not Google employees, their paychecks and amenities are taken cared of by their contractors.

Security personnel get involved when people are snooping around company grounds this is all procedural, lets not take this stuff out of perspective.


@neilk: there is nothing wrong going on. There are full time 401k employees and temp/contract low wage ones the author is representing it as if he uncovered a wrongdoing and was stopped from investigating it which is delusional.

Edit 2:

@neilk: It could be because their book scanning project is the subject of court cases and lawsuits and an overall sensitive project that some of it's inner workings they prefer to keep hidden, or maybe because he's not a Google employee and they weren't certain of his intentions so they played it safe, or because it's not the most glamorous part of their business, or a thousand other justifications, but as you mentioned it's all within their right.

If this is a typical arrangement that companies often make, why is it sensational?

@yanw: I agree there's nothing wrong going on, and everyone is within their rights. What's wrong with taking a picture of it? And before you reply that all photography on campus is supposed to be discouraged, you're right, but in practice nobody enforces that policy if you're taking pictures of other parts of Google. There are tons of photos on Flickr.

Sensationalist means describing routine and/or innocent things in a way that makes them seem like a bigger deal than they are. As you surely knew.

Well, we can disagree, but I was not being disingenuous.

I don't understand this attitude that (a) every company does this, there's nothing new here but (b) just videoing the parking lot is somehow an act on par with a Michael Moore muckraking job. It's one or the other.

I do agree it's totally routine, but it is a bit dissonant with Google's carefully crafted image as the happiest workplace on earth, and that makes it interesting. Having worked there I don't think of Google as a shining light, nor is it an evil conspiracy; there are a lot of aspects that are just normal and prosaic. I think for a lot of people, it would be interesting to know that minority and low-skill workers also have jobs at Google, and that there is boring drudge work to do at Google, and class divisions like any other place in America.

This doesn't mean Google is particularly evil or an exploiter, and I -- really, honestly! -- didn't see any such accusation in the original video, nor am I making one myself.

> just videoing the parking lot is somehow an act on par with a Michael Moore muckraking job

You are being disingenuous. He wasn't terminated for 'just videoing a parking lot'. He clearly stated his goals were to investigate class and race on the Google campus as it related to the yellow badge workers. That sounds exactly like Michael Moore style muckraking.

Discrediting the source or his delivery doesn't change what this looks like on face value:

People of color coming out of a building who have no access to the same perks as other employees and where the intention is clearly to avoid publicity of their low cost labor.

That's what it looks like at face value, but consider these facts and tell me your perception of this story doesn't get swayed a bit:

- This guy was an employee of Transvideo, a company subcontracting for Google.

- He was filming other employees from another company, we'll call it ScanOps, also subcontracting for Google.

- Neither he, nor the ScanOps employees he filmed were employees of Google.

- As per the arrangement between Transvideo and Google, he had access to certain privileges that the ScanOps employees didn't.

- He never disclosed what he eventually learned from the ScanOps employees. His story had nothing on their working conditions, salaries, workload, benefits, health. Nothing. He entirely focused on what was happening to him. He only leaves to the reader to infer from his implications that there's some mistreatment and discrimination going on. For all we know, ScanOps employees might have a better package overall than Transvideo's.

- The steps leading to his termination were all handled by his own superiors at Transvideo. Google's involvement is only implied by third parties. He never directly spoke to someone at Google (other than the security guard). Even his letter was first given to his own managers for approval, before it is implied that it was forwarded to Google. For all we know, the big Kahunas at Transvideo may have decided of their own accord that he was trying to be a smart-ass, potentially causing more trouble than necessary for them, and decided to preemptively terminate him.

End of Facts.

Now for my biased opinions, I think this guy is a manipulator. He carefully chooses words to play in his favor:

- hired jointly by Transvideo Studios and Google: somehow I doubt it. I think he was hired by Transvideo to work on their Google account.

- I found this social arrangement interesting: the implication is that there's some social stratification going on, when in fact we're talking about employees from a different operation working on sensitive enough issues that their badge specifies a number to call if someone asks questions.

- I'll just mention in passing the many hot buttons he pushes to manipulate both the article's readers and the different administrative layers who read his letters. Using the race card, social inequalities and acting as if he's just a simple bystander interested in observing these issues. He'd be my employee and behaving like that towards one of my major clients and he'd be fired, even without my client requesting it.

> sensitive enough issues that their badge specifies a number to call if someone asks questions.

Nobody doubts that there are sensitive issues, we are just debating what those issues are.

Presumably you are implying they are security issues relating to what they are scanning (Well because ... Google told us that). I read sensitive as an euphemism of "please don't let anyone know how much you make or the benefits you don't have".

> I read sensitive as an euphemism of "please don't let anyone know how much you make or the benefits you don't have".

Well, the author went and asked them, where are his answers? He carefully worded their isolation a social arrangement. On what grounds?

Everything he reported simply pointed to the fact that these ScanOps workers are carefully prevented to mingle, they start at 4am, finish at 2:15pm. If you ask them questions they call a supervisor. They have yellow badges that restrict their access.

Yes, maybe the official position is that the work is classified because there is sensitive material. At least it is an official position. You don't refute it with speculations, you need to bring some data.

The two aren't mutually exclusive. My contract as a software engineer (for a major competitor of Google's, no less!) specified similar--I am not to talk to anyone about the work I am doing (which was legitimately confidential) nor, as I recall, my salary and benefits. Everyone knows the latter is intended purely for the employer's benefit, to keep a lid on compensation details. So what? It's not in any way an indicator of exploitation--compensation may be secret and very generous.

I doubt the compensation for those scanning books is generous, but again, should it be? Do people think that the mail sorters at the USPS are underpaid because they don't make six figures? The implication of this entire piece appears to be that paying less to those who do less valuable work is an affront. I'm a leftist, but I'm not _that_ far left that I think it's appalling that those who do manual labor or data entry get paid less than engineers (or doctors or lawyers or whatnot).

I guess I'm not seeing what the issue was. This Normon guy is clearly a cock. I don't personally think his dickishness is worthy of firing, but it sounds like he had a lot more interest in his idiotic "personal project" (which really is the height of middle class white privilege, yet he lacks the sense of irony to notice!) than in his work. I can see why some small video editing company concerned about a major contract would want him out the fucking door.

There are lots of white people who come out of buildings at Google every day who don't have access to the same perks as the CEOs. Is this news?

The intention is to avoid someone making a big stink over a non-issue, because empirically people like yourself will latch onto Michael Moore style "exposes" and make a non-issue into a big problem.

> The intention is to avoid someone making a big stink over a non-issue

A better way to do that is to ... not raise a big stink over it. That is exactly what Google didn't do. If they'd just let this guy talk to people and post his video or photos online, maybe a a couple hundred readers of his blog would have seen the story and it would have been a real "non-issue" as you say. By getting the guy (especially a guy they determined likes to film "exposes") fired they pretty much guaranteed this to become and "issue". This the basic Streisand effect in action : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect

> If they'd just let this guy talk to people and post his video or photos online, maybe a a couple hundred readers of his blog would have seen the story and it would have been a real "non-issue" as you say.

Most of the indignant comments on this story are about the faux-racism/classism, not about his getting fired. Slacktivism on reddit and even HN loves stories about purported injustice. Those flames have plenty of fuel whether or not "the man" is involved in shutting down the messenger.

you don't get to decide what is or is not a "non-issue". You have opinions just like anybody else.

Which Michael Moore expose(s) concern themselves with non-issues?

Again these are not Google's employees they are the employees of the company which was contracted by Google.

Sadly the majority of low wage contract workers are minorities, it's not Google's fault.

I agree, it's totally outrageous that people with "backgrounds in sociology and political philosophy" are preying on our most vulnerable global corporations and infiltrating their most sensitive and secret labor camps!

Labor camps?! the fuck! they are being paid regular salary.

The author doesn't quite understand the concept of social injustice (nor do you) and so he tries to apply it on patterns he'd found with disastrous consequences.

He thinks that if you're gonna give your employees Google type perks you have to give these to everyone who steps inside the plex?! security personnel and cleaning ladies?! contract workers?! that doesn't make sense. Google engineers get these perks to be happy and make cool stuff, manual workers get a paycheck! that how the world works, that is why people go to college.

Giving everyone these perks would hugely increase operation costs.

This whole post and the attention it’s getting don't make any sense.

News flash: not all employees get paid the same and not everyone is the CEO.

I'm 90% sure the parent was being ironic. I agree with your points, but I think your response might be out of sync with the tone of the parent.

But do you realize that the security personnel, cleaning ladies, and contract workers [your classes of employees] do get the perks? Just the special contractors with their golden badges don't.

Google profited over 8.5 billion in Q1. There's no way food could be a relevant operating cost for them.

It absolutely does have an affect on the bottom line. How much do you think it costs to feed an employee for a year? On top of the gourmet cafes, don't forget that an employee is never 50 from food throughout the day. Now multiply by the 25,000 employees. You'll get a number that is very big even for a company of Google's size.

Google's profit was 2.8 billion on 8.5 billion in revenue.

You don't profit 8.5 billion dollars by spending money every time a self-important internet critic thinks you ought to.

Interestingly, if you say this in a "oh noes, my spam ads got pulled from Google and they won't talk to me on the phone!" thread, you get downmodded to oblivion.

fact: feeding 26,316 employees every day has zero effect on the bottom line.

You're missing the point. Google has this manual monotonous task of scanning millions of books, so they choose the company that offers the most cost effective workforce, paychecks and launch breaks are taken care of by the contractor Google hires as they don't pay those workers directly.

So if he handed off all the copies of the video he had to google, where did the video in the post come from? Is it a totally different video?

He said tapes not copies. They wanted a the tapes from both days they only got the one day. He didn't say that they asked him to destroy all the copies.

Well, except for this part of the post:

Burt had a questionnaire to which my answers were :

-I was given permission to use the camera by Carl, a superior. -The tape I used was mine. -I do not have possession of the footage I shot anymore and it does not exist in any other form.

Anyway, i'm not looking for foul play, just curious what it is he posted.

Wow. This sounds like some kind of sweatshop operating within the Google campus and they are afraid of this getting exposed. Still not able to reconcile the public image of Google and what is described in this post.

Getting them to write out a confession letter is classic detective-from-tv stuff.

How naive are people not to realize you are being made to declare everything that will be used to terminate you (and in court)?

Yellow badge Google sounds very much like a microfilm company I did computer work for.

A lot of the discussion here is around what I would like the call the US/EU (not restricted to the EU but that is what I am more familiar with) divide in work ethics and what is expected from you.

In the US (apparently from comments) they can terminate your contract for (almost) any reason. In the EU (and apparently Australia) they have to build a stronger case for firing you.

Differences are also clear regarding overtime: usually paid in the EU and expected and unpaid in the US.

There is a more than we realise that separates us (EU) from the US and if this happened in the EU I (hope) people would be in support of Andrew. I don't know enough about the US to say whether or not this is acceptable behaviour from Google.

I would appreciate if you mention where you live/are from in your comments to enhance perspective to the discussion.

What this guy did (interviewing other employees with a camera without appropriate authorisation, that is, heavily breaching the security standards of his employer) is Gross Misconduct and that's an acceptable basis for immediate termination anywhere in Europe. If you don't believe me, give it a try at work on Monday and see what happens.

Germany (I'm blissfully unaware how that compares to the rest of Europe. It might be that we're on the more aggressive side of the 'protect the employee' scale) here:

No way would that get me fired. They could try, but it would be very painful, I'd make sure that I get a good compensation at least (or sue them to rehire/keep me). You'd have a hard time fireing anybody for a _single_ offense. Ignoring the question of whether this really is a big deal anyway, unless I do something very, very stupid (strip in front of my coworkers. Grab some cash/remove the projector from a conference room and install it at home/physically threaten/engage someone) you've a hard time to send me home. For things that aren't valid reasons for immediate termination but still considered baaaad you'd need to reprimand me first. Maybe you got a case the second time I do the same thing or something similar.

I understand that this is a different world and as others have pointed out: This view conflicts with the entrepreneurial 'I want to start a company and manage my team as I want to'. But it should be an interesting exercise to understand that this rules exist. And while I'm largely ignorant politically and cannot judge or compare this situation (I never experienced something else):

It does seem to work without grinding the local business to a halt after all..

In the EU there are different countries with different cultures and rules. In some countries it is easy to fire people, while in others it's almost impossible. Where it's easy to fire people it's less of a risk to hire people.

Anyone doing anything like manual labor or factory work in the U.S. must be paid time and a half for all hours after the first 40 hours per week. (Organization with only a handful of employees might be exempt from this law.) In contrast, professionals receiving a salary usually do not have to be paid overtime. (I live in the U.S.)

It seems pretty obvious to me that the reason the yellow badge worker's aren't given those benefits is to keep them separate from the rest of the work force for security reasons (to keep them from talking about their work)

They allow janitors and food service workers access to these perks, it seems kind of weirdly targeted if they are just doing it to save money.

They're probably doing work that is so confidential that google doesn't want to give them the chance to socialize with other workers.

I agree that Google is within its right to deny them lunch, shuttle services or whatever fancy perks they dish out to their regular employees. But what I can't understand is the discrimination that Google is perpetrating against them by denying them the basic human privilege of talking to another human being.

As employees Vic Gundotra or Marissa Mayer will be knowing more company secrets than these guys will know in their lifetime. Do they also have a phone number on the back of their badge to call if somebody unknown approaches them? Are they also prevented from talking to other employees so that they don't leak those secrets? Why is Google afraid that only the yellow badges cannot keep the company secrets? What if their supervisor simply tells them that what they are working on is a company secret. Like almost any other employees why Google thinks they can' keep it a secret? Why do they have to impose this almost draconian measure of human segregation only for them?

Security in large corporations are often very tight fisted.. If you forget your access card where i work, even if the security personnel know you, they have to walk you up to your desk like a lost child! until some manager 'claims' you

In this particular case i feel for this guy, but all security are going to see is a temp contractor who's making videos of google employees, and asking strange questions to interview them.. Their probably thinking either an undercover journalist (very likely at a company like google) or somebody who's just acting weird and would need future monitoring.. neither of which are really desirable!

not to mention during lunch breaks any normal employee would have one thing on their mind.. stuffing their face!

It's a funny thing when secret rules you have never agreed to and are not the part of the law get you fired despite you complete honesty and openness.

It has very totalitaristic look&feel when you have to be careful all the time so you always obey unknown rules, breaking of which might lead to severe consequences.

The secret rule that your employer may not want to pay you, allow you on-site, and provide you access to their resources while you film an exposé on their labor practices that could potentially open them to outside scrutiny, legal and otherwise. Especially as you try to paint them as racists when they ask what you're doing. They would have been justified for firing him for stupidity.

He was fired for talking to other employees (he secretly not supposed to) and acquiring gear and permision to film some of them and actually doing it (what he secretly not supposed to) but mainly about being honest and transparent about reasons for his curiosity.

You are right. He must have been a retard and as such he wasn't fit to do any job for Google contractor.

I'm pretty sure he was fired because the honest and transparent reasons he had were totally inappropriate, and he was condescending and argumentative while positing some rather harsh allegations.

I did not say anything about him being a "retard", I said they should have fired him for stupidity. There is a difference.

I guess that I'm not that sensitive to racial issues as I was born and raised in all white country, to see more than just curiosity about what yellow badgers do why they are mostly people of color and why they don't have perks and why people generally don't know them.

I also fail to see how him being perceived as argumentative and condescending makes him unfit for the job.

I used "retard" as a synonym for "having the quality of stupidity" perhaps incorectly. I apologize.

Aren't a lot of Microsoft'ies also contractors? If you are a contractor and rock the boat, you get fired; that is pretty much the way it is.

Microsoft's contractors are "orange badges", and their email addresses start with a- or v- depending on what kind of contractor they are. They're very much treated as second-class people, ever since the 1990s class action suit (Vizcaino v. Microsoft, for those keeping score at home).

I think someone from Google needs to explain what went on here. Why is what's going on in the 3.14159 building regarded as top secret? If they're just OCRing documents surely that's no big deal. People shouldn't be fired simply because they're interested in sociology.

OK, I'm an intern at Google, and I'm NDA'd, so I can only tell you what could be deduced from if you were a visitor at Google and walking through the halls.

It's not that stuff is top secret, it's that information access is regulated to those who aren't full-time employees. Interns (green IDs) and contractors (red IDs) are given what they need to perform their job role, and little more than that. This guy was beginning to look at information he wasn't allowed to, and that should have been fairly clear to him. It's not that there is something to "hide", it's that information is limited for temporary employees, and that's just normal information security practice at any company of real size.

In regards to the race claim he's fishing for, I think it's rubbish. Regardless of what the make up of the temporary workers at 3.14 are, I see lots of contractors who are non-white (and contractors get access to most perks), lots of full-time employees are Indian and Asian. He's trying to draw out some conclusion that Google has discriminatory hiring practices based on the lower-income, lower-skilled jobs being made up of non-white, but that's just the statistical make-up of that demographic in California.

To add to that, the second floor area of the building where most of the data-entry people sit is open to public, meaning that your Googler friend could take you on a tour. Security/legal are always on look-out for people stealing trade secrets. I would guess "videotaping around google property", "refuses to give the tape", "not full-time Googler", triggered some red flags

You would think an electronic badge would still prevent access no matter the color. But then it would be too difficult to feel special or discriminate.

Or, you know, they might have them for stuff like area checking.

If Google is still scanning the contents of public and university libraries, the books are probably rare and valuable. Which is also why I doubt those workers are making minimum wage.


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