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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
>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.
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.
The author's ability to investigate this from the inside is now gone, because he got fired.
I thought that was clear.
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.
-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.
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.
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?"
The ominous monotone voiceover in the video reminded me of 9/11 conspiracy theory videos.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is the wrong board to go making that kind of assertion dude.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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"?)
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.
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
welcome to the internet :o(
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.
I'm European too by the way. Your comment is inflammatory and unnecessary.
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).
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.
"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.
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, 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. 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.
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.
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.
Good talking to you. It's good hearing different perpectives on these issues.
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.
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.
Lots of countries are economically weaker than them but didn't blow up a bubble on themselves.
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".
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.
The whole affair seems to me a severe overreaction considering they could have just sat the guy down and talked the issue through.
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)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
So why do these topics blow up so big amongst the valley crowd?
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.
Yes they used that as a reason to fire him but that's not why they fired him.
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.
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.
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.
(Fortunately not California, which is one reason so many startups are located here.)
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.
You are expected to STFU and be a "team player" despite what trouble the team is cooking up.
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.
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?
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.
Anyways, I've either misspoke or you've misunderstood.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
261 working days a year
$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.
All said and done though, my point was that the lunches are an unnecessary and significant cost.
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!"
Well, I say that, but with the naivety on show in this thread perhaps this guy is onto a winner with 'sociological issues'.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
At the same time, this guy was fired, so lets take his testimony with a grain of salt.
I also wonder if he is going to get in legal trouble with Google for posting this.
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?
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.
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.
It seems that when a customer says "jump", a contracting firm doesn't even paused to ask "how high?"
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If that's true, Google has some explaining to do, methinks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
@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.
@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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Sadly the majority of low wage contract workers are minorities, it's not Google's fault.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
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?
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 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.
You are right. He must have been a retard and as such he wasn't fit to do any job for Google contractor.
I did not say anything about him being a "retard", I said they should have fired him for stupidity. There is a difference.
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.
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.
The other company (auto parts manufacturer as well) had similar badge system as discussed in the article, employees with lowest ranking badge were considered the "lowest class", no one except their immediate supervisor talked to them and listened to them. This segregation meant they had no incentive to work intelligently or report problems. All they wanted to do was to do their jobs and get the hell out.
It was quite educating to work under the two contrasting management structure. The first one was a breath of fresh air and the second was very suffocating.
Or maybe this is Google's new way of boosting revenue!
Lets not jump to conclusions, this will definitely get picked by major news outlets and then Google will have to respond
1.) Yellow badge worker treatment -- most of the comments here seem to accept his description of their work life (right or wrong) as fact, it is unsubstantiated to me. I see a video of people getting in their cars and going home, that is all. Considering he claims to have never spoken to any of them, except for a brief encounter before security grabbed him, it would seem even he is admitting he does not have first hand knowledge of anything he said. It is an entirely less than complete view (and possibly incorrect description) to which to draw any conclusion.
For that reason most of the discussion seems premature to me. With that said, no luxury transport, no free meals, etc -- does in fact describe the working conditions of 99.9% of Americans. A company treating people normally is not substantially interesting, tho apparently juxtaposition makes it so -- because what is interesting, and has always been interesting about Google, is that they treat their employees extraordinarily well.
2.) Was Google "right" for wanting him off the campus? Sure -- they contracted with his employer to provide some service, not to film an expose about Google itself,made possible only by being on the Google campus with unfettered access to the grounds. I realize he says he did not film it with the idea it would be an expose, but film is shot to be shown, and in his letter he makes it fairly clear what his interest was in filming, the assumptions and/or understanding he had while filming -- which gives a fairly clear picture of why he was filming. And it resulted in just about the kind of film you would expect. That isn't what he was there for. There is nothing that even remotely rises to a whistleblower type defense, as there is nothing remotely illegal about what he claims to be the yellow badge worker treatment. If he had in fact been filming something illegal (or at least in some way out of the norm in a negative fashion, even), my opinion would be more substantially in his favor -- in relation to how egregious the treatment actually was.
Why does this juxtaposition come about in the first place? It seems to me that the amount of effort an employer will want to go through to keep/attract a certain type of employee is proportional to how much effort they would have to expend to replace that employee. I would argue it is relatively more difficult to replace campus workers than ScanOps personnel (since campus workers are higher skilled and also must become acclimated to the campus on the terms of the employer, while ScanOps can just sign up and start scanning), Google doesn't expend the same effort to keep the employee. Nothing nefarious is at work; a large profitable company is trying to stay that way.
That being said, the reaction Google had does seem a bit over the top, but I would agree that this is mostly the fault of Andrew's tone.
(EDIT) they also likely canned the guy for being an idiot and causing trouble
Google has hourly employees! - You don't say?!
Google has contractors! - Really?!
Let's explore the narcissistic exploration of self-hurting section by section:
"In September 2007 I was hired jointly by Transvideo Studios and Google"
No you weren't. You were hired by Transvideo Studios who filled a contractor slot on their video production contract with Google.
"I had access to a personally unprecedented amount of privileges, but was not entitled to the ski trips, DisneyLand adventures, stock options, and holiday cash bonuses"
That's because you weren't a Google employee. You were a Transvideo Studios employee. Do you expect to receive benefits from another company just because you happen to be walking around on their campus?
"The workers wearing yellow badges are not allowed any of the privileges that I was allowed – ride the Google bikes, take the Google luxury limo shuttles home, eat free gourmet Google meals, attend Authors@Google talks and receive free, signed copies of the author’s books, or set foot anywhere else on campus except for the building they work in."
So hourly employees aren't entitled to the benefits package of salaried exempt employees? And the way Google is setup is to pool employee benefits in and around their building, ergo the only way for hourly employees to not receive the benefits package is to work in a different facility?! Stop the presses! It's a conspiracy!
I almost stopped reading there, hand stuck to my forehead, but then I saw this as I was closing the page and was hooked to the rest of this like watching a train wreck happen.
"To Whom It May Concern,
Yesterday I was outside the Google Book Search building, which is adjacent to the building I work in, and had the chance to talk to a few employees while they were leaving work. 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. I was not aware of how secretive the Book Search project is, but now understand how seriously my curiosity could jeopardize not only my own job and Transvideos’ relationship with Google, but also my legal situation because of the non-disclosure agreement I signed.
I apologize for bothering you with this innocent mistake and can assure you that in the future I will be more cautious about respecting confidentiality at Google.
You're also a liar. Your intention was not to explore your passing interest in labor, class or race, but to feed your own self-importance by uncovering a made-up conspiracy of class warfare at Google, where the man is oppressing a silent minority of underclass poor people from enjoying the rights and privileges of the ruling overclasses. Did you mention that you were secretly video taping this?
You wanted to document this in as dishonest a way as possible, "exposing" this "dark secret" to the world the way PETA exposes animal cruelty in meat processing plants, with hidden cameras, a blog post loaded with terms-and-phrases-of-controversy.
"But Marco called back in a frenzy, saying that Google security had proof of me outside, filming yellow-badged workers leaving the 3.1459~ building on two separate occasions. I told him this was true and he said that Google legal was now involved, and they needed the video tapes immediately."
So of course your immediate innocent reaction, which you didn't think was important to share with anybody, was to secretly videotape people coming and going from their place of work without their permission.
"Burt then presented me with a document that would terminate my employment on the basis of me using __Google’s video equipment__ during working hours __(although it was during my lunchbreak)__"
It's still Google's equipment you nitwit.
"I told him I could take the shuttle home, as I’ve gotten on without my badge numerous times, but he insisted on driving me to the CalTrain station."
Really? You don't understand why they wanted to escort you personally off campus? After you were abusing company equipment, violating security, secretly filming your coworkers and pretending not to find the film, then documenting your lie by putting the video you couldn't find up on your site, then lying to your managers about the entire thing? What are you 8? It boggles the mind.
I wonder how many of the yellow badges got fired as a result of this asshole?
Wake me when this guy grows up and starts seeing a psychiatrist. And yes, please keep this post up so other companies know not to hire you either.
We call ourselves hackers or entrepreneurs because we question the status quo.
All this guy seems to have done is do just that. I dont think he deserves any of what you just called him. Who made you the jury and executioner here on HN?
Whatever you call it, social experiment or whatnot, it seems to have gotten out of hand and the guy got fired. And he blogs about his experience. Lets not read much more in to it.
As for people getting fired because of what he did, would you blame someone who blew the cover on a sweatshop and in turn cause the sweatshop being shut down? Google is a better employer than a whole lot of others, but these actions sure seem heavy handed.
The rest of the blog entry is a passive-aggressive lament wherein the author attempts to convert the reader's sympathy for said workers into sympathy for himself and his treatment at the hands of Google. If this were really an article about class conflict in tech companies, that might be interesting, but it's not. The way the author flings around adjectives that border on insults ("chubby white man"; "sedate black guard" -- what?) indicates that he doesn't really have any substantial background in race, class, or gender studies. Nor does he have anything interesting to say on those subjects.
As it is, this is (passive-aggressive) mud-flinging with no real evidence or substance behind it.
Chalk it up to an embarrassing lesson learned.
Whether you agree or disagree with the author's motivations, at least be civil. "Nitwit", "liar", "What are you 8?" ... ugh.
This response is relevant to you as well.
Sorry for being uncivil.
He doesn't seem to understand the difference between being an employee for a company that was hired by Google and being a Google employee and instead concocts this story about class warfare and injustice.
Sorry for being nasty. You are absolutely right.
He differentiated between being a red badge contractor and getting many of the on-site perquisites, versus being a yellow badge, who gets no (visible) benefits whatsoever.
He also clearly states that Google leaned on his employer to fire him, not that Google fired him.
I don't see how your statement is correct.
<sarcasm> For some reason, some have an aversion to situations where a group of different race ends up having to wear a different color badge and start work at 4am and get less benefits than those of another race ... </sarcasm>
They way Google reacted and the way it looks is what makes the story interesting. Classification based on badges, surprisingly matches well with a race-based classification as well. Isn't that interesting? These employees work in a separate building, get to work at 4am! Isn't that interesting to at least talk to them? Mention it to your friend? At least I found it interesting even without any class or culture overtones mixed in. Even with a class critique attached onto this, one can at least make another tired comment on the lack of education and job prospects for minorities in California and Google is just one example.
I think the author wanted to do just that. The way Google reacted to it, they pretty much guaranteed for this to become an issue. It is akin to someone who does something that is slightly shameful and a little wrong, and then there is an ambiguous reference made to whatever they are doing, but then they start overreacting, thus betraying that they know they are doing something that not quite right. They could have just acted cool and got away with it. But it is the reaction that in this case betrays the guilty corporate conscience.
i think this is an interesting common characteristic of attacks on the articles author - the direct or subtle reminder that he failed to act in his own self interest vis a vis employment. this is how capitalists want us to frame everything - in terms of narrow self interest.
Oh, paranoia! Point being, it isn't that the people are capitalists, just that the culture allows self interest based threats...
I may be letting paranoia get my goat, but it seems to me that lots of people are coming down horribly heavily on this blog post, and I wonder if its some form of a pr case being built against the poster.
Sorry for the negative vibes.
Second, to clarify, I would actually say this to somebody's face (and have in the past), but this is clearly the wrong forum for that kind of outburst and is precisely what pg is talking about when discussing the lower level of comment quality. Lesson learned.
Second, Thanks also for providing an explanation for your downvote. I'm one of the few that believe a comment should be required for an upvote on HN because there are simply too many reasonable comments that get slammed without explanation (not saying my comment was unreasonable, just applauding your comment in response).
Third, I disagree with you. Even on a plain scan of the page, the very first thing he has up there is one of the videos he was supposed to turn in before termination that he mysteriously:
a) brought home, which wasn't his property
b) couldn't find upon request
That opens the piece as disingenuous and the rest follows from there.
The entire piece reads as a cry for attention which of course we are all giving him.
Who are the people with yellow badges? The author never found out. And Google does not appear to have made the information public.
The important point here is that if temporary employees are working alongside full timers doing very similar work for long periods of time, the employer (Google, not the agency) runs the risk of a suit like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permatemp#Vizcaino_v._Microsoft.
Microsoft now (and I suspect this lies in part behind Google's various segregations of different classes of employees) makes an effort to restrict contractor access to various full-timer activities (like ski trips and such, as the author complains) and to ensure that contractors don't do full-timer work.
So this isn't some sort of evil conspiracy; it's an honest attempt to comply with US labor laws.
Is it fair? No. But Google's used that perception a lot in the past and their justifiably worried about losing that good reputation, given their increasing difficulties with retention and hiring.
A scandal about 3rd class workers with untouchable status is the last thing Google needs right now. They should have handled this better.
However, I think this reflects more on the disparity in Ivy League schools (which Google prefers to hire its full-time workers from) and the computer science/manual labor fields in general than any inherent racial bias within Google itself.
To my knowledge, cultural hierarchy is very standard within pretty much all companies regardless of size. Not everyone gets a company car, their own office, the same health benefits, or if you are privileged enough to work at a company that provides them, the same gourmet lunch as has been stated elsewhere in these comments. Furthermore, the existence of sub-hierarchy (contract and temporary) workers is very common in larger companies. To my understanding, these temp and contract workers usually enjoy few if any benefits provided by the company as they are rarely actually employed by the company they are working for but rather an agency.
In addition to this, it is pretty standard procedure to ban all unauthorized taping on company campuses. If anything, to my uninformed mind the fact that an employee got as far as actually taking unauthorized video footage is if anything a credit to Google's openness (or whatever you want to call it).
So, I guess my question is: Where is the interesting aspect of this? Is the popularity of this really just due to the "divulging" that Google employs workers that aren't provided the same benefits as some of its other workers? Is it the existence of a "class system" in Google to show worker's authority/hierarchy level? If it is one of these reasons, there must be something else I'm missing as without having seen this story I would have just assumed that these things existed at Google.
I ask this as a sincere question as obviously this has gained the attention of a large portion of this community which I hold as very intelligent. I am driven to assume that whatever it is that is engaging about this story is simply going over my head.
Perhaps Google shouldn't make such a big deal out of its workplace benefits when there is evidence that it's just a minority that has access to them.
I understand even if Google wanted to keep its benefits private, it couldn't control how much the mainstream media gives attention to them.
Anyway, I hope to have answered your question. You raised valid points and, IMHO, it's just a matter of perception... people think Google is something when it's not (there area varying degrees of gray here).
There's a clear intention to keep this group segregated and hidden from the rest of Google and that's a bit disturbing.
I wonder what's with the confidentiality at book search. The first two things that pop to mind is keeping the yellow badges secret and preventing their enemies from messing around(publishers are pretty mad at the whole book scanning thing).
Yet the author mentions:
"I found this social arrangement interesting, and ... decided to investigate the rationale behind Google’s decision to exclude the yellow badge class from most privileges the company has to offer, despite the fact that their labor ...[is] being contracted to Google by another company just like ... other informational laborers, the kitchen staff, the shuttle drivers, the custodians, and more."
It seems like what piqued his interest was that there seemed to be a disparity between the benefits of this particular group of workers and other normally considered low-skill work like the others he mentions.
What's more interesting from a sociological perspective is the range of most of the reactions here on Hacker News, which seem to vary between "he doesn't understand that this is just how things work" to brick shitting freak out ("passive aggressive", "nitwit", "see a psychologist").
If you find yourself immediately jumping into defense mechanisms, stop for a second and think about why that is.
I would presume training for on-site contractors includes the security policies about job knowledge and ability to talk about it. Likely a handbook or something...
Or, if Andrew was within limits of the policy, Google overreacted.
At any rate, certainly if someone I didn't know came up and wanted to ask me questions about my job (which by the way would be company confidential), I'd be suspicious; I'd likely call security, depending on if I'd seen him around before or not.
I appreciate that it is interesting about the socio-economic divide. I would want to ask questions too, but, uh, I'd like try not to be utterly oblivious to the obvious security concerns.
It's clearly meant to generate discussion regarding racial and human rights issues, as well as the clash of public/private space. I do not see a single hint that the artist is in any way unhappy or resentful, but IMO is rather opening up an issue for discussion. (See his CV: http://www.andrewnormanwilson.com/resume)
I'm shocked at all the angry responses.
The second thing is that I don't understand why are you calling him racist. I believe that things in the USA are quite different from I'm used to.. You can get sued for anything. I heard that an employer can get sued for asking things like age, sex, height, color during an interview for a job.
There may be a perfectly good reason for Google to exclude contractors from the "Googly perks": the Microsoft lawsuit.
If Google treats the contractors just like its employees, then the contractors can turn around and sue Google. Google needs to maintain a distinction between contractors and FTEs. Recall the Microsoft lawsuit filed by contractors: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permatemp
ROFL. Someone has a pretty loose definition of "temporary".
I understand your point but it would only apply if these people were at Google doing their job for days or few months. We just don't know.. but the reality of most of other companies indicates they could probably be there really as 2nd class employees that are cheaper.
Last IT companies provide this kind of labor to Fortune100 companies all the time. It's really not hard to find someone employed by $Big_IT_company that has worked at $Big_Financial_company for years and years.
Because being treated inequally, deprived of things people around you take for granted, can damage oneself seriously.
For me they are two different things. Although having different salaries/compensation for different kinds of jobs is perfectly normal and is hidden from people's view by the privacy that is applied to how much people make..... the workplace perks like free lunch and bus are totally visible (how could they not be?) and create a social divide between people that once accentuates their grief/delusions/issues and contributes to make people feel "different" in the human level.
Sorry, but not everyone's work is worth the same. It isn't fair or equal, and it shouldn't be.
Amazing to hear that Google has a strict caste system.
edit: wow, at 1:05PST dozens of people suddenly hit this thread and started attacking the premise.
Ask yourself this--if any plantation slaves were alive today, would they agree with your comparison?
The question isn't whether Google is goind anything strictly illegal.
The question is whether Google is doing something what would be considered shady by a big part of Google employees; If so, how would Google acknowlege the situation; And then, how would they live thru this, with Googlers knowing that their own standards are in a serious mismatch with the actual behavior of the business body, Google.
Public reaction is another interesting thing. People's passion or neglect isn't regulated by law; instead it's regulated by their own feeling of right and wrong. It may be both legal and a PR disaster at the same time.
Of course, it might turn out that people in general and Googlers dominantly don't see any problem and don't care. It doesn't seem to be this case yet.
Am I to expect that if you were working at a company and you brought an allegation of racism to your superiors, you should be fired because that allegation makes them uncomfortable or could lead to legal trouble? Would everyone here be jumping up and down to say how correct that is?
I obviously only have one side of the story, but I can't think of a way that firing someone for talking to the wrong people or asking the wrong questions is right. Not even if it's Google doing it.
Wow. Just wow. The sense of entitlement and self-righteousness is just mind blowing.
Does he realize that it's illegal to treat contractors exactly like employees?
Does he realize that if Google started giving contractors exactly the same treatment, they could get in big trouble with the IRS and other regulatory groups, have the contractors retroactively declared employees, be forced to withhold payroll taxes on their behalf, pay big fines?
He seems to be shocked, shocked that Google acts...the way every other tech firm acts, and for the same reasons.
I thought the main point was that they weren't treated like other contractors like the author was (red badges)?
The point is purely practical, not so much legal. When employees are on salary, it's worth doing whatever you can to make it convenient for them to stick around and stay longer. Providing perks such as free food helps with that - it helps get more work hours out of people for a given salary. The perks are in some way a substitute for extra salary, and likely to save the company money in the long run. Especially perks that save employees time, like letting them start work on the bus during their commute or letting them have meals right on campus so they don't lose time driving elsewhere.
Whereas hourly employees get paid for each specific hour they work so there's little benefit to encouraging them to stick around longer than they would otherwise be inclined. In fact, you generally want to discourage hourly workers from doing any overtime, since you'd have to pay them time-and-a-half.
The article failed to mention that there are shifts throughout the entire day. There's lots of books to scan!
Google might be evil. They certainly aren't pure of heart and all that. But there's nothing in this ten minute monotone "expose" that really gives any legitimate concern.
Simply making an accusation or insinuation doesn't in itself warrant exploration of something. Insinuations about anyone can be made by anyone and they don't all deserve a response or an investigation. This guy has no particular credibility and with is particular attitude, under the particular circumstances and with the distinct lack of . . . anything . . . that he has to back up his concerns . . . falls into the category of "not worth the time".
Now, if some employees come out tomorrow -- even under anonymity -- and start sharing the tales of terrible treatment to some SF Chronicle reporter or something, then you might have something.
How is this any different than having guards and janitors that work odd hours? You think they get all the Google perks that software engineers get?
My company requires that employees not speak with the press unless they are granted direct permission to do so and that they should, instead, refer them to an internal rep who will speak with them. That is not censorship. That is my company looking out for their best interests so that some dumb ass like me doesn't say something stupid that misrepresents them. My company also has the right to tell me to watch my crude language while working for them and not to dress like I'm attending a beach party.
There are already whistle-blower laws and protections to address what you are referring to, which is the exposition of unethical or illegal business practices by an employee.
The “Book Scanners” are NOT Google employees!!!!!
They are the workers of a company that was hired by Google to do this monotonous physical labor, you know CONTRACT WORKERS!
That’s why they don’t get any rocket-ships made of chocolate Lego bricks or whatever perks Google employees get.
As for security getting involved that is procedure!! and exactly what happens when you go snooping around on company grounds.
This this whole post is nothing but sensationalist rambling and delusional nonsense.
This is why I'll never work for a large company.
This scarely reminds of "Jedem das Seine" and "Arbeit macht frei"
Both phrases actually match the described situation perfectly
On a large corporate campus, you can't just randomly walk around in the buildings. Your access card doesn't even work everywhere. So segregation (physical separation) is pretty standard.
Therefore they can not prove that they've segregated employees to prevent confidentiality breach, and we can not prove that they segregated employees to prevent people becaming aware of the class society.
I don't know how to resolve this problem. We just don't know, so it's a question of trust.
I don't trust that Google has a big amount of highly confidential but unqualified data-entry labor, and they can't prove otherwise unless they lift the confidentiality wall.
Screams exploitation to me.
In the US you can't stop person A from talking to person B if the purpose is to make your job better (better benefits/working conditions/almost anything).
IANAL (again)..but, yes, if they aren't allowed to talk to other employees about non-NDA stuff, I agree that maybe a line is slightly being crossed.