Google childcare workers circulate petition for commute pay

An Android statue wearing a mask on the Google campus in Mountain View, California, US. Employees said they’ve been trying for weeks to raise the transportation issue with managers, and been told to handle it themselves through solutions like carpooling. — Bloomberg

Google’s workers who provide childcare and education for staffers’ kids say the Internet giant is summoning them back to the office without restoring the shuttle service they rely on, and they’re circulating a petition urging the Alphabet Inc unit to provide a transportation stipend to cover commuting costs.

“Shifting this cost to essential workers, who earn far less than the Googlers whose children they care for, is unacceptable,” according to the petition, which members of the Alphabet Workers Union drafted and began circulating Friday. “Google can be an extraordinary problem solver, but is choosing not to solve this problem for its childcare workers.”

The petition, which in its first hours had garnered signatures from about 200 Alphabet workers, says the staffers at Google Children’s Centers have tried raising the issue with managers, to no avail: “The corporate response was ‘Transportation is just a perk, not a benefit’.”

A Google representative said Friday that the shuttle service will be available “as soon as it’s safe”, but declined to give a timeline. The company added that childcare staff were paid in full during the pandemic when the Google center was closed, and like other Google employees they received an extra US$1,000 (RM4,112) work-from-home stipend.

“We work hard to provide a positive, rewarding and fulfilling experience for all our employees, including for our Google Educators at our Children’s Centers,” Google spokesperson Shannon Newberry said in a separate statement. “We welcome feedback and will continue to work with any employee who has concerns.”

Early child educators and caretakers work at four Google Children’s Centers near the company’s San Francisco Bay Area offices, with employees’ kids under their care ranging from infants to five-year-olds. During the pandemic they’ve provided virtual activities such as yoga and reading books to kids. In interviews, employees said their comparatively low pay makes it infeasible to live near Google’s campuses, and the refusal to help with their transportation reflects an undervaluing of their labour.

“These are Googler babies, children, and we support them, and yet our work isn’t looked at that way,” said Denise Belardes, a local AWU leader who makes about US$25 (RM102) an hour as a Google child educator.

Employees said they’ve been trying for weeks to raise the transportation issue with managers, and been told to handle it themselves through solutions like carpooling. “We just feel so invisible,” said AWU member Katrina de la Fuente. “We’re like the stepchildren.” Some workers are being required to return to the office as soon as May 10 to prepare the classrooms for kids to return later this month, according to Google Children’s Center employees.

Though many tech companies have moved to make remote work more permanent, Google is inviting staff back into offices later this year, arguing that in-person work fosters innovation. The company has redesigned its campuses to offer more space between people and create features for hybrid co-working, with a mixture of staff in office and at home.

Earlier this week, Google changed its rules to allow more people to work from home or from different offices. After this fall, the company said 60% of its staff will work on site, a few days a week, while 20% will be able to work fully remote.

Alphabet chief executive officer Sundar Pichai also told employees the company in 2021 would continue to provide “reset” days – additional paid leave breaks Google implemented during the pandemic.

The Alphabet Workers Union, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, formally launched in January. The group has said it isn’t seeking formal recognition or collective bargaining with the company, but plans to tackle workplace issues through advocacy and protest. A National Labor Relations Board complaint AWU filed in February on behalf of a sub-contracted Google datacentre worker in South Carolina led to a settlement, in which Google promised to obey US federal law by not silencing workers about their pay. – Bloomberg

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