Written by Daisuke Wakabayashi
SAN FRANCISCO — Mindy Cruz had an offer for a full-time position at another big tech company when she accepted a temporary job as a recruiter at Google in 2017. The pay was less and the benefits were not as good, but it was one step closer to her dream of becoming a Google employee.
Ms. Cruz became one of Google’s many temps and contractors — a shadow work force that now outnumbers the company’s full-time employees. But she never made the jump to full time. She was swiftly fired after a Google manager, who she said had harassed her for months, told the temp agency that had hired her that he wanted her gone.
High-tech companies have long promoted the idea that they are egalitarian, idyllic workplaces. And Google, perhaps more than any other, has represented that image, with a reputation for enviable salaries and benefits and lavish perks.
But the company’s increasing reliance on temps and contractors has some Google employees wondering if management is undermining its carefully crafted culture. As of March, Google worked with roughly 121,000 temps and contractors around the world, compared with 102,000 full-time employees, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times.
Though they often work side by side with full-timers, Google temps are usually employed by outside agencies. They make less money, have different benefits plans and have no paid vacation time in the United States, according to more than a dozen current and former Google temp and contract workers, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they had signed nondisclosure agreements.
Better treatment for those workers was one of the demands made by organizers of a Google employee walkout last year to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment complaints.
“It’s time to end the two-tier system that treats some workers as expendable,” the walkout organizers wrote on Twitter in March.
When Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, did not respond to those demands, a group of anonymous contractors sent an open letter demanding equal pay and better opportunities for advancement. In April, hundreds of Google employees signed another letter protesting the dismissal of about 80 percent of a 43-person team of contingent workers working on the company’s artificial intelligence assistant.
In response, Google said it was changing a number of its policies to improve conditions for its temps and contractors.
The reliance on temporary help has generated more controversy inside Google than it has at other big tech outfits, but the practice is common in Silicon Valley. Contingent labor accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the workers at most technology firms, according to estimates by OnContracting, a site that helps people find tech contracting positions.
OnContracting estimates that a technology company can save $100,000 a year on average per American job by using a contractor instead of a full-time employee.
“It’s creating a caste system inside companies,” said Pradeep Chauhan, who runs OnContracting.
In statements to The Times, Google did not directly address concerns that it had created a two-tiered work force, but said it did not hire contractors simply to save money.
Eileen Naughton, Google’s vice president of people operations, said that if a contingent worker “is not having a good experience, we provide lots of ways to report complaints or express concerns.”
She added, “We investigate, we hold individuals to account and we work to make things right for any person impacted.”