Workers have long coveted jobs in the tech industry because companies promise things like good pay, prestige, luxurious perks, and innovative cultures.
But Emi Nietfeld, a Google engineer from 2015 to 2019, wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times on Wednesday that she left her tech job because Google’s supposed reputation as a great place to work masked the reality that – just like other companies – it ultimately looks out for itself.
Nietfeld said in the op-ed that one her male managers sexually harassed for more than a year, calling her “beautiful,” “gorgeous,” and “my queen” – and that Google’s reputation made it that much harder to speak up.
“Saying anything about his behavior meant challenging the story we told ourselves about Google being so special,” Nietfeld wrote, adding: “Google was the Garden of Eden; I lived in fear of being cast out.”
Google did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
When she eventually filed a formal HR complaint, Nietfeld wrote: “Google went from being a great workplace to being any other company.”
Google ignored Nietfeld’s concerns about having to sit next to her harasser during and after its three-month-long investigation, even after concluding that he violated the company’s harassment policy, she said, while suggesting that Nietfeld seek counseling, work remotely, or take a leave of absence.
It’s not the first time Google has come under fire over similar cultural and equity issues.
Nietfeld said Google didn’t appear to do much in the way of reprimanding her harasser, and after suffering through weeks of bad sleep and emotional distress at work, she took three months of paid leave. But Nietfeld said she returned only to face retaliation from another manager, get passed over for promotion, have her pay cut, and have Google make a “meager counteroffer” when two competing job offers came up.
“After I quit, I promised myself to never love a job again. Not in the way I loved Google. Not with the devotion businesses wish to inspire when they provide for employees’ most basic needs like food and health care and belonging. No publicly traded company is a family. I fell for the fantasy that it could be,” Nietfeld wrote.
Rideshare and food delivery drivers are planning to protest Wednesday outside Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco, California, over what they say is gig companies’ continued failure to protect them nearly a year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drivers for Lyft, Instacart, Uber, and Uber subsidiary Postmates said in a press release announcing the protest that the companies aren’t providing adequate PPE and have refused to pay them for the time it takes to clean their vehicles.
They said that Proposition 22 – an industry-backed law passed in California in November that classified rideshare and food delivery drivers as contractors, excluding them from certain labor protections and restricting the ability of local governments to regulate gig companies – is largely to blame.
“Eleven months into this pandemic and workers are still asking for the most basic life saving protections for themselves, their families and their communities,” Cherri Murphy, a Lyft driver and organizer with Gig Workers Rising, a co-organizer of the protest, said in a statement.
“It’s really stressful – I’m always being timed when I’m driving for these companies and if I don’t get places quickly, I can be punished. It’s like the companies don’t care about making sure I have enough time to wash my hands, clean my car, and wipe down surfaces,” Lucas Chamberlain, Instacart driver and member of We Drive Progress, another group behind the protest, said in a statement.
Under Prop 22, drivers aren’t paid for the time they spend waiting for Uber or Lyft to find them a ride or delivery order or sanitizing their vehicles in between jobs. Some gig economy researchers have estimated that loophole could allow companies to pay drivers for just 67% of the hours they actually work.
“Since the COVID-19 crisis began, Lyft has provided tens of thousands of face masks, cleaning supplies and in-car partitions to drivers at no cost to them, and continue to provide access to these supplies today. Our most active drivers also received a free safety kit, consisting of a reusable cloth face covering, sanitizer and disinfectant,” a Lyft spokesperson told Insider, adding that Lyft doesn’t profit off PPE.
Uber told Insider that it has allocated $50 million toward safety supplies for drivers and said it has provided 30 million masks and other cleaning supplies to drivers worldwide.
But while California law requires most companies to provide PPE and sick pay to their employees and to pay into the state’s unemployment insurance program, Prop 22 classified drivers as contractors, allowing gig companies to save far larger amounts by not having to cover those costs. Uber and Lyft drivers last year claimed they’re owed $630 million in back pay as a result of the misclassification. One study found that between 2014 and 2019, the two companies should have paid $413 million into California’s unemployment insurance fund.
Uber spokesperson Kayla Whaling told Insider the company “has tried to do everything we can to support [independent contractors] while they support our communities, including distributing PPE free of charge, providing financial assistance for those who were diagnosed with COVID-19, helping connect them to new work opportunities on Uber or elsewhere, and consolidating information to help them apply for PPP loans or federal unemployment assistance.”
Still, Uber hasn’t always delivered on those promises, and when it has, it’s often only done so following backlash from drivers, regulators, courts, or the media.
Insider reported last April that, despite Uber’s claims it would pay drivers who tested positive for COVID-19, the company had denied legitimate claims and even locked out drivers who requested sick pay.
Wednesday’s protest – which Gig Workers Rising and We Drive Progress said will include a socially distanced rally – comes as some lawmakers in California are already pushing for more accountability for gig companies who rely on rideshare and delivery drivers.
San Francisco supervisor Matt Haney said he plans to introduce legislation that would require companies like Uber and Lyft to provide PPE and pay drivers for time they spend cleaning their vehicles.
“In the midst of this devastating pandemic, workers have gone above and beyond to protect themselves and our communities by purchasing protective equipment and cleaning supplies and spending their personal time sanitizing their cars to save lives. It is outrageous that while delivery app corporations continue to rake in profits, workers are forced to shoulder these burdens while struggling to make ends meet,” Haney said in a statement.
Do you work at Uber, Lyft, or another food delivery or rideshare app company?We’d love to hear how your company is navigating challenges brought on by the pandemic. Contact this reporter using a non-work device via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 503-319-3213), email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Twitter (@TylerSonnemaker ). We can keep sources anonymous. PR pitches by email only, please.