Google Employees Plan A Walkout Over The Handling Of Sexual Harassment Claims

Nov 1, 2018
Originally published on November 1, 2018 10:11 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Today, Google employees and also contractors around the world have been staging walkouts. This is taking place in cities like London, Tokyo and New York City. Employees at company headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., are expected to join the protest later today. They are protesting how the Internet giant has been handling accusations of sexual misconduct against its executives. NPR business correspondent Yuki Noguchi has been covering this. Hi, Yuki.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning, David.

GREENE: Good morning. All right. So these workers feel that the company has been too lenient with these executives who've been accused. I guess we should start by explaining what the accusations are.

NOGUCHI: Well, the allegations are that Google protected itself and some executives accused of sexual harassment by not only keeping the real reasons for their dismissal secret but even paying the massive severances. In particular, one story featured in The New York Times last week seems to have blown the lid off this. Andy Rubin, the man who helped create Google's Android system, was paid $90 million in severance and given, essentially, a hero's send-off when he left in 2014, even though he was being asked to resign because of his behavior. And then other - on top of that, other executives were permitted to stay long past when Google knew about problem behavior. And employees who were organizing the walkout say they're disgusted. And for every story that they are aware of, there - that there are many untold stories.

GREENE: Well, so how is the company responding to this moment?

NOGUCHI: Well, they seem to be acknowledging it in part. Google CEO Sundar Pichai sent out an email this week to employees essentially apologizing for the company's past actions and clearly seeming to suggest that it erred in its decision-making with respect to Rubin. Here's what he wrote. Quote, "I understand the anger and disappointment that many of you feel. I feel it as well. And I'm fully committed to making progress on an issue that has persisted far too long in our society, and yes, here at Google, too," end quote. The company also notes that since Rubin's departure, it has handled subsequent cases of sexual harassment - nearly 50 in all - very differently and without granting severance. So that's their position.

GREENE: OK. So the company in responding - but I mean, evidently, not enough for employees who are staging these walkouts as you and I are talking. So what do employees want to see happen beyond that?

NOGUCHI: So the Google employees who've organized this walkout are demanding five changes. One involves ending a forced arbitration clause in their employment agreements, which are increasingly common, but effectively keep all workplace claims under wraps by requiring employees to resolve them in arbitration. So that's one - demand number one. And then there's a commitment to pay equity and opportunity, and then, generally, sort of transparency with respect to how they handle sexual harassment, implementing better systems for it. And then employees also want a seat on the board of directors. The employees are saying this is basically emblematic of a broader problem with culture at Google, where even highly skilled workers in positions of power are dismissed and unheard.

GREENE: All right. Quite a moment at Google. NPR's Yuki Noguchi. Yuki, thanks a lot. We appreciate it.

NOGUCHI: Thank you, David.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.