Google staff walk out to protest its corporate culture

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Google staff walk out to protest its corporate culture

Thousands of Google employees and contractors staged brief midday walk-outs on Thursday at offices across Asia, Europe and North America to protest sexism, racism and unchecked executive power in their workplace.

At Google's global headquarters in Mountain View, California, hundreds of employees streamed into a courtyard. One large cardboard placard held by a worker said "Not OK Google," a reference to the "OK Google" phrase used to activate Google's voice-operated Assistant.

In New York City, women and men filed out of Google's office and silently walked around the block for about 10 minutes. A few held sheets of paper with messages including "Respect for women."

“This is Google. We solve the toughest problems here. We all know that the status quo is unacceptable and if there is any company who can solve this, I think it is Google,” said Thomas Kneeland, a software engineer who said he has been at Google for three years.

Two blocks away, a larger crowd of people that appeared to number a thousand or more, including Google employees and New Yorkers not working for the company, filled a small park. Some held larger signs than those at the Google office, with more confrontational messages including "Time's up Tech."

Google employees have been getting a lot of emails from managers and colleagues to participate in the walkout recently, Kneeland said. Just around 11 a.m., people started forming groups to leave the building. “We had engineers on our team bring their pagers since they were on-call, but that’s how we thought of the walkout. It’s important.”

A few hundred people quietly sandwiched on a pedestrian median near San Francisco's ferry building listened to a fellow employee yell from a megaphone, urging people to cheer as she called out different Google office buildings in the city in a sort of roll call of protest.

Organizers said demonstrations spanned dozens of Google office globally. The actions follow a New York Times report last week that said Google in 2014 gave a US$90 million exit package to Andy Rubin after the then-senior vice president was accused of sexual harassment.

Rubin denied the allegation in the story, which he also said contained "wild exaggerations" about his compensation. Google did not dispute the report.

The report energized a months-long movement inside Google to increase diversity, and improve treatment of women and minorities.

Those issues have been top of mind since the 2016 election of US president Donald Trump, a Republican, stunned Silicon Valley, where liberal and libertarian policies are popular.

Tech workers have become more vocal to protest both the president's and their companies' stances on immigration, defence and discrimination. Workers have said that they are driven by the sense that the technology pioneers employing them should be standard-bearers on socioeconomic issues too.

In a statement late on Wednesday, the Google walkout organizers called on Google parent Alphabet Inc to add an employee representative to its board of directors and internally share pay-equity data. They also asked for changes to Google's human resources practices intended to make bringing harassment claims a fairer process.

Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a statement that "employees have raised constructive ideas" and that the company was "taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action."

Global Action

Hundreds more filed out of its European headquarters in Dublin shortly after 1100 local time, while organizers shared photographs on social media of hundreds more leaving Google offices in London, Zurich, Berlin, Tokyo and Singapore.

Irish employees left a note on their desks that read: "I'm not at my desk because I'm walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that's not working for everyone," national broadcaster RTE reported.

Google employs 7000 people in Dublin, its largest facility outside the United States.

The dissatisfaction among Alphabet's 94,000 employees and tens of thousands more contractors has not noticeably affected company shares. But employees expect Alphabet to face recruiting and retention challenges if their concerns go unaddressed.

Much of the organising earlier this year was internal, including petition drives, brainstorming sessions with top executives and training from the workers' rights group Coworker.org.

Since its founding two decades ago, Google has been known for a motto of "don't be evil," a dictum preserved in its worker code of conduct, and its transparency with employees about corporate strategy.

But organizers said Google executives, like leaders at other companies affected by the #metoo movement, have been slow to address some structural issues.

"While Google has championed the language of diversity and inclusion, substantive actions to address systemic racism, increase equity, and stop sexual harassment have been few and far between," organizers stated.

They said Google must publicly report its sexual harassment statistics and end forced arbitration in harassment cases. In addition, they asked that the chief diversity officer be able to directly advise the board.

(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin in Dublin, Paresh Dave in San Francisco and Jane Lee in Mountain View; editing by Larry King and Nick Zieminski)

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