Revealed: Google's 'two-tier' workforce training document
December 12, 2018 10:54 AM   Subscribe

 
Having been an indirect hire or temp at other organizations, I feel like Google's TVCs are better off than most people in those sorts of roles. This widespread dynamic of "we're not your joint employer because we don't give you t-shirts or health insurance, even though you've worked here and nowhere else full-time for years" is some bullshit and I wish it weren't a thing.

I'm glad that Googlers are pushing for TVCs to get treated better. I have no idea how to help TVC equivalents everywhere, though.
posted by bagel at 11:06 AM on December 12, 2018 [13 favorites]


When the tragic shooting occurred at YouTube in April of this year, the company sent real-time security updates to full-time employees only, leaving TVCs defenseless in the line of fire. TVCs were then excluded from a town hall discussion the following day.

I drove to YouTube that day to pick up someone who had run from the campus and was hiding from the shooting in a hotel down the street. The door was barricaded and they were sitting, waiting, unaware of what would happen next, because they weren't getting the updates. I can't tell you what it's like to get text messages from someone who's hiding from a shooting and doesn't know what's happening.

It's not unique to Google though. This practice is widespread throughout Silicon Valley. I've been in multiple firms where temps are deliberately segregated, and the advice to do so is commonplace. It's just another example of how this part of the world's supposedly liberal attitudes are window dressing for a dog-eat-dog, libertarian culture.

I'm grateful that Google employees are pushing for more; if they succeed, they have the potential to change conditions for workers throughout Silicon Valley.
posted by bwerdmuller at 11:09 AM on December 12, 2018 [36 favorites]


How can we show appreciation for TVCs?

Write a thank you note (cc their employer or [redacted])
Send them a note on G+


O! the inanity.
posted by chavenet at 11:10 AM on December 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


This was my experience working as a designer in Chicago through placement agencies. It’s not pleasant to experience but it’s not unique to google, the tech industry, or Silicon Valley. Also none of it was at all surprising. Yes all of my colleagues are at home enjoying Christmas Eve because they’re salaried and I’m here at the office alone because I need to make my hours because I’m hourly. Some things are for employees and some things aren’t. The only thing that would actually help is if companies went back to hiring employees again instead of doing any possible thing they can think of to avoid it.
posted by bleep at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2018 [27 favorites]


It's not really shocking that they have policies in place about dealing with temps/contractors. I also think this kind of training is a good idea - I've worked for companies before where we had temp staff but due to bad management/discomfort with labor issues regular FTE were never told they were temps. What's shocking that nearly 50% of their workforce are not Google employees. I've worked for contracting firms before and it can be a very important component of engineering R&D. But it seems to me like most of the time they are used for accounting reasons and because many managers are little Trumps who hate conflict and need a lil John Kelly to fire people for them.
posted by muddgirl at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


permatemps are such a bullshit practice. I worked at Microsoft when they rolled out the compulsory limit on temp positions (something like 12 months in a position, then three months away from MS before taking any new position?) and people everywhere instantly went into action because "oh my god my team would be screwed if this permatemp left, she knows EVERYTHING" - and asked for exemptions to continue that position indefinitely. Fuck that, if you need that person then employ them. If they don't want to be your employee then maybe you should not run your whole project on them.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:15 AM on December 12, 2018 [110 favorites]


> The only thing that would actually help is if companies went back to hiring employees again instead of doing any possible thing they can think of to avoid it.

Well, we could wait for employers to treat us all decently even though that might make them somewhat less profitable, or we could take action ourselves.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


What's shocking that nearly 50% of their workforce are not Google employees. I've worked for contracting firms before and it can be a very important component of engineering R&D.

I would like to see a breakdown of employee:temp by area - I'm betting that ratio is so high because some groups, like security/janitorial/food staff are 100% temps, it's probably a lot lower within engineering.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


From the tech/project management side I want to scream "TEMPS AREN'T ANY CHEAPER!!!! THEY ARE MORE EXPENSIVE IN THE LONG RUN!!!!!"
posted by muddgirl at 11:17 AM on December 12, 2018 [43 favorites]


I read this article and thought it could be summarized as "Oh, the horror! Google treats contractors the way the law says they should treat them!" The only difference is that Google has taken the trouble to ensure that their employees know how to do this. Yes, it's too bad that someone (like myself, for instance) who has worked on the team for five years, with many notable contributions, can't be recognized, but that's the way contracting is. I knew it when I signed on. Unfortunately, some expensive lawsuits in the '90s showed that companies must behave this way.
posted by ubiquity at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2018 [23 favorites]


The Red Badge of Discourage.
posted by jamjam at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


The really funny thing about temp staff, especially overhead staff, is when the contract is rebid and now all the exact same staff work for a different company. But you don't let them eat any birthday cake so they're not employees.
posted by muddgirl at 11:22 AM on December 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


Yes, it's too bad that someone (like myself, for instance) who has worked on the team for five years, with many notable contributions, can't be recognized, but that's the way contracting is.

In the EU, this practice is illegal, and the company would be seen as the de facto employer. It doesn't have to be this way, and it is unfair, so action should be taken to correct it. It turns out unions and labor protections are useful. Who knew?!
posted by bwerdmuller at 11:25 AM on December 12, 2018 [71 favorites]


Unfortunately, some expensive lawsuits in the '90s showed that companies must behave this way.

You're living the life and you still think that the company would treat you better, they really want to, but big ol' mean lawsuits mean they can't? Or that most people stuck in TVC roles chose them after a clear-eyed comparison with a good choice of permanent full-time jobs?

Silicon Valley is just amazing to me in the way that it leverages their middle-class suburban white male employees' lack of home training in recognizing when people and institutions do not have their interests at heart to not only reduce skilled professionals to a semi-employed underclass, but get them to identify with them and endorse their reasoning. Finance and law have never managed this.
posted by praemunire at 11:36 AM on December 12, 2018 [53 favorites]


Oh, the horror! Google treats contractors the way the law says they should treat them!"

This is 100% correct, BUT, most of these people are FT Google employees in every other sense and should not actually be classed as contractors.
posted by capricorn at 11:38 AM on December 12, 2018 [30 favorites]


It doesn't have to be this way, and it is unfair, so action should be taken to correct it. It turns out unions and labor protections are useful. Who knew?!

The only temp job I ever had was at a union shop. It was also the shittiest employer I ever had. It was pretty shitty for union and non union employees alike. Fortunately, I treated it like a temp job since it became clear that even as a full hire, there were better opportunities to be abused elsewhere. I jumped ship at the first opportunity.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:40 AM on December 12, 2018


Well, addendum to that--vendors are vendors and temps are temps, but a "contractor" whose only "client" is Alphabet Inc., who is required to be physically on premises, and whose hours are set by Alphabet, Inc. is a misclassed FTE.
posted by capricorn at 11:41 AM on December 12, 2018 [33 favorites]


I read this article and thought it could be summarized as "Oh, the horror! Google treats contractors the way the law says they should treat them!" The only difference is that Google has taken the trouble to ensure that their employees know how to do this.

This is directly because in '92 Microsoft temps sued and eventually won in 2000.
Basically you have to treat temps & contractors differently than employees, otherwise they're employees.

Yes, a bunch of these people should be full-time employees. But some of them are contractors for a bunch of reasons and as ubiquity says, this is the law for better or worse.
posted by GuyZero at 11:41 AM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


My office is full of employees, consultants, and sub-contractors mostly working on mixed teams. It actually works pretty well, mostly because everyone is reasonably well-paid and benefitted from their respective employers. The consultants and contractors are generally paid better, actually - so it's not exactly a bitter pill to swallow when the "networking" training isn't open to you but the subject-matter-specific ones are, given that you know you're making a premium for it.

When companies are using temps to get around compensating people appropriately, that's the problem. Not the use of TVPs themselves, and not education around legal obligations.
posted by mosst at 11:44 AM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


But some of them are contractors for a bunch of reasons and as ubiquity says, this is the law for better or worse.

...'til death do us part?
posted by Quindar Beep at 11:46 AM on December 12, 2018


Unfortunately, some expensive lawsuits in the '90s showed that companies must behave this way.

trolololololol

oh the poor companies! they MUST behave this way, you know
they couldn't do anything so impossible as, say, hire a person they rely upon like a full-time employee to actually *be* a full-time employee
so sad
how they wish it were otherwise
posted by halation at 11:48 AM on December 12, 2018 [57 favorites]


I would like to see a breakdown of employee:temp by area - I'm betting that ratio is so high because some groups, like security/janitorial/food staff are 100% temps, it's probably a lot lower within engineering

Janitorial/food/security are usually employees of other companies - most large companies hire a security company and contract with a food vendor and janitorial service.

I'm a project manager who does contracting with major banks. In my experience, nearly a third of the workforce is contractors, especially in technology.

One of my FTE co-workers last week asked me if I was going to the 'big meeting' that I knew nothing about. Turns out contractors were not invited.
posted by shoesietart at 11:49 AM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


This is literally the same way the federal government works. They're a slightly bigger employer.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:50 AM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


In competitive labour markets like SF and the Valley, what's stopping temps and contractors from finding other jobs? Does Google pay better, so that these workers can actually afford a place to live? Or is it just that every place now is hiring temps?

I was just offered a salaried position by a local (Victoria BC) tech company, but I declined because I find salaried positions (de facto sole income stream) too too risky and prefer to have multiple income streams.

They relented and have hired me on contract.

The downside is that if I don't work I don't earn, but after struggling to reinvent myself (and keep my family off the street) after being laid off in 2009 I will likely never work for one employer ever again.

Then again, in Canada we have public healthcare -- I pay my taxes and I can see my doctor no problemo...
posted by JamesBay at 11:54 AM on December 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


When I worked at an academic journal, our editors (except the EIC and ME) were Independent Contractors because it was a second job for them; they were faculty at universities around the world. The annual paperwork was a bit of a headache for me, but the real pain in the neck was that we couldn't get our University to give them access to databases and other materials they couldn't get where they were for some reason. I did my fair share of scanning a chapter here and saving an article to PDF there to send them.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:58 AM on December 12, 2018


How all jobs became temp jobs
posted by The Whelk at 12:00 PM on December 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


Chiming in to say that this is also common among the administrative/secretarial staff at banks as well. (It's how I lived for about 10 years.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Or is it just that every place now is hiring temps?

So I work with some of these people and honestly I don't totally know.

It is, to some extent, a cost savings. A manager only gets so many headcount for full-time employees (FTEs) but may be able to wrangle a couple contractors from their budget. Sometimes it's for roles that are initially meant to be temporary but they end up sticking around forever. A lot of contractors I know do QA work. It's not like we don't have full-time QA staff in some areas, but in others it's just not done to hire full time testers so they bring in contractors instead. If a project goes badly you can let temps go immediately whereas FTEs get the opportunity to relocate within the company.

And the contracts themselves often come through agencies. I have to assume that people are going through agencies because they haven't had as much luck applying directly to companies. They all seem perfectly competent but the reality of the situation is that we'll bring in people as contractors that we just wouldn't hire directly for a bunch of reasons. Some probably hope to use it as a stepping stone to getting a full-time job and sometimes that works.

I have heard, but don't really know for sure, that there are some areas that are super-full of contractors. Phone support. Doing user-generated data review and approval. I'm sure in these cases it's purely a cost-savings. We get more people per dollar and there's no career path anyway. I don't know what to say except that even at big seemingly great companies there are still a lot of crappy jobs.
posted by GuyZero at 12:04 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


If Soo-jin feels comfortable, she can address it with the temp directly. She can also report it anonymously through [redacted], or email [redacted] who can work with their employer to resolve.

Soo-jin is a snitch! (But only if she's comfortable being one.)
posted by praemunire at 12:07 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I just finished up a stint in the security group on an Australian based tech company. I’m a consultant, but I had been there longer than the many of the permanent employees in the group.

The Chief Security Officer’s first move when he was hired was to eliminate the different badges for temporary or contract staff: “If you’re with us, you’re one of us, whether you’re here for a week or for years”.

It was a great place to work. And they don’t have a problem with insider threats or leaks. Funny, that. Almost as if people steal or leak because... they hate their jobs?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:11 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


If only there were a way employees could negotiate collectively with management to work on these issues, instead of allowing the company to choose which positions were contract and which were employees.

Also, in my workplace this was stopped by two factors: taxes and insurance. The CRA ruled that in-house contractors were no employees as they only worked for one client and had no mix of other client duties through the year. Thus they started charging my employer the employer tax contribution.

Secondly, we were required to have third-party liability insurance as contractors: if I drop a box on an employees foot, that employee's surgeries should be covered by my liability insurance. We as contractors started listing that on our RFPs as a separate line item and our "employer" started to get unhappy about that. Eventually, as the full nature of our work was made clear to the insurers, not just office work, they stopped offering insurance except at fairly catastrophic rates. So hiring a contractor eventually meant paying a third-party insurance company a major fraction of the contract cost.

Between taxes and the tax judgement against them, it was cheaper to hire the contractors as employees. Also, the unions were starting to agitate about it too. I think the writing was on the wall.
posted by bonehead at 12:15 PM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


I don't know private industry, but another reason for temps (we also called them 'casuals') in government IT was to disguise the true size of the government department as contractors/casuals/temps were not listed as government employees.
posted by Mogur at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


A friend of mine has worked as a contractor for a Major Electronic Entertainment Company for ten years. Every year she angles for a full-time, permanent supervisor position, and every year she gets passed over. This year she asked for advice from the human resources worker who hired her and who is a genuinely good person who helps her whenever possible. She learned that said human resources worker is also a contractor.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:22 PM on December 12, 2018 [18 favorites]




This is how tech companies are. I won't look at non-FTE jobs even if they pay well, because being happy at work is more important than how much I earn. I am sensitive to how I am treated, probably overly so, and FTEs get treated better. Full time employees get more respect, more trust, more appreciation, and those things make me happy.

Of course, one of the ways age-discrimination works in the valley is that you find yourself funneled into this kind of not-a-real-job instead of the FTE role they'd offer a college hire in a minute. This year I turned down a 1 year contract at LARGE_FAMOUS_COMPANY (not Google) in favor of staying at home with my kid, but I don't know what I'd say next time.
posted by w0mbat at 12:30 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I read this article and thought it could be summarized as "Oh, the horror! Google treats contractors the way the law says they should treat them!"

Uh, no. They are basically being treated like full time employees in every other way. Google just wants to be union-proof. Fuck them, don't let them.
posted by corb at 12:30 PM on December 12, 2018 [14 favorites]


A 2016 study suggests that most of the job growth over the past decade was in temp jobs, not full-time, full-pay, full-benefit jobs.

David Weil (DOL Wage & Hour Administrator under President Obama) has a book on the issue. Louis Hyman (referenced above) has another book.

There's an easy short-term solution for part of the problem. If it doesn't seem fair that two people sit in adjacent cubicles, doing identical work, but one's an employee and one's a temp, then just ban the practice. Just like you're not allowed to make hourly workers work overtime without overtime pay, make a law that says that if worker A is doing the same work as worker B, and worker A is an employee, then worker B is an employee, too.

The harder problem is why companies that are awash in cash by historical standards insist on focusing on shareholder value and the bottom line, to workers' detriment.
posted by johnwilcox at 12:35 PM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


I will likely never work for one employer ever again

Amen. Permanent staff are tricked into thinking a for profit legal entity cares about you. Contracting the relationship is honest. We're both using each other. People need to think of themselves as a small business not an employee. Don't believe their lies.
The only advantage of perm contract is legally required min severance but the benefits of contracting are worth far more: vastly higher compensation, tax write offs as biz expense,overtime, no BS annual reviews, no politics, no year goals for career paths than don't exist, no town hall meetings, no 'voluntary' mentoring schemes, no fake corp soc responsibility theater. I bill by the day and every late project is a gift, every transformation scheme months of fruitful billable time. (outside of America with free healthcare)
posted by Damienmce at 12:36 PM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


US Fed (at least at NIH) has a terminal case of "you're a temp contractor and you're here forever."

Where I currently work, they've got new employees (under a certain paygrade of course) coming on board as temps for (usually) 3 or fewer months before they convert to "full time" with the company. I assume this is to help them dodge some regulation or other that's associated with terminating their own poor selections in the People's Republic of Maryland.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:40 PM on December 12, 2018


One of the biggest wins at my job when the union came in was an end to permatemps. Memorably, there were a couple of people who had been "temporary" for fifteen or sixteen years.

Now, if you need someone full time for more than a certain period (three months, I think) and they aren't filling in for someone on leave, and they aren't hired for a discrete project that has an obvious beginning and ending that is not obviously part of some existing unit/workflow, you have to hire them. Amazingly, all that has happened is that we just....hired more people.

On another note: One of the most important economic features of our union is the way it's boosted wages and benefits for janitors. As a pink collar worker, I make slightly less than someone with my experience in the private sector but have substantially better benefits and retirement (plus job security, far more vacation and far, far more sick leave). The janitors? They make a living wage, have predictable schedules and have the same benefits and retirement that I do. They do dramatically better than the private sector.

People often think that it's basically okay to contract out your cleaners and food service people but sort of sketch to contract out skilled work. But if you had to pick, you'd be doing far, far more for the local economy to bring them in house and contract everyone else out.
posted by Frowner at 12:40 PM on December 12, 2018 [26 favorites]


I wish all the people who were like “no way, contract work is way better than being an employee!” would at least listen to why some people are unhappy, instead of assuming it’s because they don’t know any better.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:41 PM on December 12, 2018 [28 favorites]


I think this is in the Guardian because in the US, this is not news. This is how every single contactor position works, mostly because of lawsuits at Intel and Microsoft some years back. Now, some companies are better at integrating the two tiers together than others, but the reason why contractors don't go to all hands or coffee with the COO is because they're not employees, plain and simple. Does it suck? Yes, but so do the laws that allow managed vendor contracts (aka perma-temps) and the accounting rules that make it cheaper to have vendors instead of proper employees.
posted by fiercekitten at 12:44 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I get why Google/Alphabet would want to provide training to their full time employees, but having so much documentation that shows they understand they are at risk of being considered a joint employer seems to me like it could backfire in a legal setting.

(IANAL.)

In 2000, Microsoft agreed to pay a $97m settlement over a massive class-action lawsuit brought by permatemps.

I worked (not as a lawyer) on a similar case against AOL... well, not exactly similar, since the argument in that case was that forum moderators were volunteers not employees, but I guess similar in that the nature of the work and "brand name" of the company caused many people to sign on without an employment contract.

For AOL, there was a massive paper trail showing that their forum moderators had assigned shifts and paperwork requirements, were reprimanded for "missing" their supposedly volunteer job, and were doing quite a bit of administrative work for the company. They were also being paid in free AOL hours, which at least initially were worth something. The docmentation was too complete, so there was plenty of evidence to use in the case.
posted by subdee at 12:45 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


America loves to create caste systems. It's what we've got instead of royals. It sucks, but in a few decades I can probably retire, or get eaten by dogs on reality TV or whatever.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:47 PM on December 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


I have heard, but don't really know for sure, that there are some areas that are super-full of contractors. Phone support. Doing user-generated data review and approval.

I've done a ton of online marketing over the past decade (since reinventing myself after getting laid off in 2009), including setting up Google Local Business (or whatever the hell they call it) profiles.

It's not unusual for Google Maps to misplace businesses on Google Maps, so I had to figure out some way of getting it fixed quickly. The easiest thing to do was phone up Google directly, using a convenient (but hidden) backdoor link we discovered. We also asked our Adwords account staff to patch us through to Google Local Business.

All of the people I talked to were contractors, typically working out of Chicago. Google Mapmaker (and now I guess Local Guides) staff are all contractors working out of India.
posted by JamesBay at 12:48 PM on December 12, 2018


I mean, if you're a highly paid specialist, it probably makes sense to be a contractor as long as you have access to healthcare.

But if you're an ordinary person who does the day to day work of the company, it makes no sense at all. You're not going to make $50,000 for a few months of work and then sit on a beach, you're not going to move from challenging assignment in enviable location to challenging assignment in enviable location, you're not going to be head-hunted for your special skills.

You're just going to scramble and scramble and scramble to get more of the same, all year round, except with no benefits. You're just going to have an unpredictable but small cash flow and live in dread of your car breaking down. You won't have any guaranteed vacation and because you don't make a lot of money, you can't just take a month off between assignments - in fact, a month off between assignments would produce nothing but a horrible sinking feeling.

Basically, rich people can do what they like, and they always think that we should be like them, or that it's personal failing that we're not all high-paid tech consultants - that a world in which everyone makes $100,000 a year and the toilets are scrubbed by robots is possible and likely and somehow it's our fault that we're not there yet.

What makes sense for a sought-after professional in a highly-paid field does not make sense for the average working class person, and this is structural rather than our fault.
posted by Frowner at 12:49 PM on December 12, 2018 [44 favorites]


I wish all the people who were like “no way, contract work is way better than being an employee!” would at least listen to why some people are unhappy, instead of assuming it’s because they don’t know any better.

Mileage may vary and depends on your industry and demand for your skill. I can see why a janitor would want the stability of a union but also why a KDB time series quant developer wants to charge by the day forever.
posted by Damienmce at 12:50 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I assume this is to help them dodge some regulation or other that's associated with terminating their own poor selections in the People's Republic of Maryland.

I'd assume it's a hiring-freeze issue. Work still has to get done, budgets have been cut by grandstanding idiots who want to Drain That Swamp and Rein In Government Inefficiency and Run It Like A Business. And this is what "running the government like a business" looks like: as many permatemps as possible kept in perpetual precarity, even in mission-crucial roles.
posted by halation at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


The no t-shirts thing is bullshit. I have never heard of that with TVCs embedded in a team at a tech company and I've worked at a bunch. I'd like to see the caselaw behind that rule, because I think it's some lawyer somewhere [makes jerking-off gesture]. I highly doubt that Google's determination of being a joint employer or not to some 1099 is going to hinge off an $8 t-shirt at the end of a project.

Though I suppose it's just more room for managers to show whether they're decent human beings, or the sort of people who in a different time and place would probably be looking an uncomfortable court martial for "just following orders".

If the rules tell you to be a dick to people, and you follow those rules, you're a dick. Don't be a dick. Christ, I wouldn't make someone the second assistant junior team lead's scrummaster's notetaker if I didn't think they at least understood that. Does the entire West Coast tech industry just need to be collectively beaten senseless with a copy of Peopleware? I've got one, if needed. (1980s edition, well-thumbed, will roll up nicely.)

One hopes this is not how the actual situation on the ground is. I mean, any decent manager ought to be able to work around those rules, one way or another. I'd go further and say that any manager who can't get creative and figure out some way to get around an obviously-perverse outcome demanded by a bunch of asinine rules is probably not cut out to be a manager. That's, like, 50% of the job at a big company.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


The CRA ruled that in-house contractors were no employees as they only worked for one client and had no mix of other client duties through the year.

Yeah, here in Canada it is much more difficult employers to hire individual contractors. I can't work on-site full-time, for one thing. I must provide my own equipment, and I must decide on my hours of work, and how I do my work. I also must have more than one material source of revenue.

CRA (the tax authority) enforces this.
posted by JamesBay at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2018


You're not going to make $50,000 for a few months of work and then sit on a beach,

$50K is not enough money to sit on the beach, fwiw.
posted by JamesBay at 12:52 PM on December 12, 2018


$50K is not enough money to sit on the beach, fwiw.

Damn, what beaches are you going to?
posted by edeezy at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm a TVC and have been most of my career. I'm on the better end of the spectrum in that I'm a management consultant who engages with senior business leaders at my clients rather than a developer contracted through a "pass-through" firm, but I still see this each and every day.

It SUUUUUCKS for the TVC - knowing that the FTEs are literally instructed to treat you like a second class citizen. The FTE sitting at the desk next to me right now gets better healthcare, a better retirement package, access to all kinds of corporate discounts and freebies I can't get, access to subsidized childcare, endless options and money for professional development, and a nearly endless list of things that the client doesn't have to give me as long as they keep me a TVC. Even though we're doing the exact same goddamn work.

It creates an internal culture of eloi and morlocks - the people who are real humans and all the lesser beings who exist to support their world. It's incredibly dehumanizing and companies should be publicly reported on, rated on, and shamed over how they run their businesses on this predatory model.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:00 PM on December 12, 2018 [20 favorites]


Oh my TVC one five, oh oh, TVC one five
posted by paper chromatographologist at 1:03 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


>$50K is not enough money to sit on the beach, fwiw.

Damn, what beaches are you going to?


The beach of supporting a family and planning for retirement. Although TBH even for a single person $50K does not go far in Canada. Housing, including rental and condos, is super fucking expensive. Everything is expensive in Canada.
posted by JamesBay at 1:05 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Permanent staff are tricked into thinking a for profit legal entity cares about you.
This is not the argument and people who want permanent contracts are not all deluded idiots, come on

People need to think of themselves as a small business not an employee.
I mean, that's great if you earn enough to afford an accountant and actually are a contractor who can legitimately write off expenses. Not so great if you're juggling multiple low-paying jobs and/or don't have the money to contract that labour out and will receive no financial benefits from filing as a contractor since you aren't actually a contractor, just misclassified.

The only advantage of perm contract is legally required min severance
...and not having to scramble constantly to find another job, not having to scramble constantly to job-search and apply and interview, not having to cobble together multiple contracts and hope they don't all fall through, not having to worry about what happens if you don't find a job in time when your contract runs out...

but the benefits of contracting are worth far more: vastly higher compensation
lol, [citation needed]

tax write offs as biz expense
again, doesn't help the misclassified -- if you're a call centre employee, what exactly are you writing off?

overtime
lol

no BS annual reviews
literally what do you think a contract renewal is

no politics
LOL
...what do you think this article was even about? Separate meetings which mean you have no idea what the rest of your team is doing isn't what I'd call "no politics"

no year goals for career paths than don't exist
but... that's because no career paths exist? which doesn't strike me as a net positive?
posted by halation at 1:06 PM on December 12, 2018 [32 favorites]


$50K is not enough money to sit on the beach, fwiw.

You understand that most people don't even make $50,000 for working all year round, right? The people who think that $50,000 isn't very much money are not in anything like the majority and their experience is not typical.
posted by Frowner at 1:06 PM on December 12, 2018 [39 favorites]


In Washington state, certain positions can, by law, be exempt but not salary. This applies to lots of jobs in the tech industry. So my husband gets paid by the contracting agency and gets (somewhat inferior) healthcare benefits but he is only paid for hours worked - no holiday pay, no sick leave, no vacation pay and certainly no overtime pay - because he is an exempt hourly employee. When the office is deserted and he can't interact with his team mates because they are all off for a holiday, he either goes to work and twiddles his thumbs or takes it off without pay. His co-workers treat him really well, though, and make sure he is included in lunches, meetings, coffee, t-shirts, etc. Don't tell anyone.
posted by diane47 at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2018


You understand that most people don't even make $50,000 for working all year round, right? The people who think that $50,000 isn't very much money are not in anything like the majority and their experience is not typical.

Should be thought of in Canadian dollars. Median household (family) income in my city is C$89K. It is very expensive here, so as a sole income earner that is my individual revenue target. It has taken me years of work expanding my client base to build up to this.

Ironically, I contract for a couple of San Francisco-based clients. Their rates are very good.
posted by JamesBay at 1:12 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Please don't tell me I don't know the value of $50K. There were years mid-decade where I earned that supporting a family of four. I sincerely hope I never experience that again. Everything I do aimed at alleviating that risk.
posted by JamesBay at 1:13 PM on December 12, 2018


there are a shitload of canadians who make under $50K; have you looked at salaries for, well, pretty much everything that's not higher-end tech or real estate in vancouver lately
posted by halation at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also there's a terminology distinction that I think some people are missing, a lot of the TVC's at Google aren't 1099 employees who are running their own small business, they're employees, often hourly, at other consulting corporations.
posted by Carillon at 1:14 PM on December 12, 2018 [14 favorites]


there are a shitload of canadians who make under $50K; have you looked at salaries for, well, pretty much everything that's not higher-end tech or real estate in vancouver lately

Yes, but remember 1) I live in Victoria, not Vancouver; wages are better here 2) the $89K number I quoted is the median, so, yes, I am EDIT aware that 50% of wage earners earn below that. Victoria is also extremely expensive.

I don't see what's so controversial about saying that earning $50K and then taking the rest of the year off on the beach is not viable in Vancouver or Victoria.

I think it's a similar pattern in Victoria, Vancouver and the States, but to reach that magical median household income number, you're going to have two adults working for $45K each or something. Or perhaps $50K and $40K.

For me it's not an option.

But the rising income disparity is frightening. The influx of Vancouver transplants who have cashed out and moved to Victoria is also frightening. Many BMW, Audi, Ranger Rover SUVs on our roads now. The future is unsettling and I'm glad I can get out of this place, and my kids will be able to work anywhere in the world because of the language they speak and their passports.
posted by JamesBay at 1:21 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I am also, at the end of the day, a writer. You see just how well I put words together here. Imagine paying me for the privilege, lol! It's a grind.
posted by JamesBay at 1:23 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I highly doubt that Google's determination of being a joint employer or not to some 1099 is going to hinge off an $8 t-shirt at the end of a project.

No, but it will to the NLRB. Things like joint meetings, joint 'uniforms', training, etc - all of this stuff would suggest that Google is a joint employer, such that if the company attempts to unionize, Google would have to respond to it. Right now, Google works super, super hard to avoid unionization. They can't afford to have these people treated as their employees for reasons of bargaining. Instead, they divide the workplace into 'temps' and 'employees', so that the workers have no reason to join forces.

Again, I say, fuck them.
posted by corb at 1:24 PM on December 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


permatemps are such a bullshit practice. I worked at Microsoft when they rolled out the compulsory limit on temp positions (something like 12 months in a position, then three months away from MS before taking any new position?)

Hewlitt-Packard did this to me in the late 90s. They called it their "flex force". That is to say, it was to maintain a buffer of temp employees they could fire / re-hire easily to match with production demands, and I guess you can't do that for longer than a year. I don't know the relevant statute, but it's basically toothless regulation that places like Manpower and other staffing agencies play along with. At the time, my case worker there flat out told me this is what was happening and that they will gladly re-hire me as a temp at the same pay when they could do so legally. Fuck everything about this.
posted by cj_ at 1:28 PM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


Intel does this with 'Green Badges'. Unless you are an engineer or in administration (management, not technical), you are a contractor. You are not given benefits, you are paid barely living wages, you will be fired if you complain and you will under no circumstances be able to transition into working directly for Intel.

Although Intel limits contract duration, they play a shell game by terminating your contract and then immediately creating a new contract. You will be working in the same position, on the same team but with a slightly different title or contract code, the result: Intel's IT infrastructure is managed and supported by a bunch of Office Depot employees making around $20/hour*. I've encountered numerous egregious ethical and legal lapses over the years there but since you are simply a guest, you have no recourse.

*You pay back some of that hourly wage if you want health benefits, allowing an endrun around minimum wage laws.
posted by kzin602 at 1:41 PM on December 12, 2018 [9 favorites]


vastly higher compensation

This is so misleading as to be disingenuous. Contractors get paid a higher hourly rate because they have to pay the employer half of FICA as well as cover all benefits such as health insurance for themselves. You must know this.

I'm not saying there are no noble freelancers whose services are so in demand that they can choose to work as contractors and earn compensation equal to that of a full-time employee with decent benefits--but those people could presumably also be full-time employees, since they are in demand. That's not the situation for most people.

And, well, just LOL at the idea that a person can assume they can just keep working steadily "forever" or until retirement. You better hope so!
posted by praemunire at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2018 [7 favorites]


No, but it will to the NLRB

I honestly don't think Google is super worried about unions. Software engineers are not really the unionizing types, at least not yet.

They're much more concerned about the IRS, who is paying the employer's part of employment taxes and whether they have to give people paid vacation days and health coverage.
posted by GuyZero at 2:16 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


No, but it will to the NLRB. Things like joint meetings, joint 'uniforms', training, etc - all of this stuff would suggest that Google is a joint employer,

That's not even the reason they give, though--it's that a t-shirt would be taxable compensation (!!!). Any odds you want they aren't grossing up their employees' salaries to make sure they don't have to pay taxes on that project t-shirt.
posted by praemunire at 2:16 PM on December 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


permatemps are such a bullshit practice. I worked at Microsoft when they rolled out the compulsory limit on temp positions (something like 12 months in a position, then three months away from MS before taking any new position?)

Google did this as well, when I was a TVC for them. Mind, I had already been contracting for them for a couple years, then the company went public. They slashed our pay by 25%, then implemented 12 months on, 3 months off, 12 months on, then fuck off and don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. You could come back through another vendor for the same terms, but there are only a bare handful of vendors with contracts for the project I was on.

I was among a group that had originally been recruited from Google Answers to work on the project. We worked full time hours, were paid $20 an hour, and we were often asked to put in extra time. The pay cut was a pretty big slap in the face, but $15 an hour was still better than jobs here at home were (are) paying, and I was pretty committed to working from home. But they didn't tell us til the end of the second year after that that our contracts "could not" be renewed.

I got back on the project through other vendors, and after each contract, there was a pay cut. I ws thrilled to finally land FTE that allowed me to work from home.

Last I heard, they're still using most of the Guidelines that I wrote during my first go-round with them, and they now pay around $10/hour. In short, Google can go fuck themselves.
posted by MissySedai at 2:18 PM on December 12, 2018 [10 favorites]


I worked there in the way back days. We used to invite temps, vendors, contractors to events, and the one broke their leg and sued. So company policy changed.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:01 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


(a) If the company was negligent, it could as easily have happened to an FTE as to a TVC--TVCs don't have inherently more brittle bones or something; and
(b) The increase in insurance premiums to cover this eventuality (that is, extending the people covered from just employees and guests to employees and TVCs) is hardly an amount to bankrupt Google. Has a guest never been injured at an event? Did Google stop employees from inviting guests to all events?

I understand that if you're not a lawyer, a legal explanation can look like a black box, and you may reasonably wonder whether you have the knowledge to critique it, but in this case, a little skepticism is surely called for.
posted by praemunire at 3:12 PM on December 12, 2018 [5 favorites]


$50K is not enough money to sit on the beach, fwiw.

Cost of living in some of the more laid back Caribbean/Central American countries, that might modestly, though with a few luxuries last a few years.

To add: you necessarily need to be young enough and able-bodied.
posted by bonehead at 3:14 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine has been a TVC. She's been contracting for I think most of the last ten years in the tech industry. She would love to have a regular full time job again but cannot get hired at one for anything. She seems to just rotate between all the tech giants in various stints and even though she might sign a year contract, they may dump her out of the job after two weeks or a month because "oh, we're out of money." Though when she worked for Google she did get to go to parties and got some of the freebies, so there's that. I guess.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:21 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I worked at a now-defunct publisher, and aside from my direct boss having a severe (in hindsight; I was so naive I didn't understand what that looked like then) substance abuse problem, the thing that bothered me most was that nearly every other employee in my group was a contractor. The company had rules that said after x amount of time, you had to hire such folks full time; but instead of doing so, the company would just draw up a new, slightly different contract and start over. Not sure that was even legal, but it was certainly shitty. Those folks were skilled and critical to that group.

Anyway, I told them when I quit that that was one of the reasons. I was full-time but I had the distinct feeling that a company that pulled shit like that was never going to treat me right in the long run either.
posted by emjaybee at 3:47 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I think that we can agree that earning 50k in a few months is not enough to sit around on the beautiful, famous beaches of Victoria, BC for the remainder of the year but my understanding is that there are other places in the world with beaches.
posted by Kwine at 3:54 PM on December 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


no year goals for career paths than don't exist

but... that's because no career paths exist? which doesn't strike me as a net positive?


I think you’re misreading their intention a little. I think they’re saying that career paths for FTEs often don’t really exist and the prospect of promotion is just a ploy to get extra work for free. It’s cynical but I’ve seen that done, and worse.
posted by w0mbat at 4:40 PM on December 12, 2018


I think we can all agree that anyone who earns $50k in a few months and then spends it in the remainder of the year by taking their family to live on a beach is a stupid strawman and it doesn't matter how many people earn less than that, they aren't taking annual beach vacations either.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 4:44 PM on December 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


I think they’re saying that career paths for FTEs often don’t really exist and the prospect of promotion is just a ploy to get extra work for free.

Sure, that happens, but given how TVCs and permatemps feel compelled to scrounge and scrape desperately in an effort to become FTEs, it doesn't make for much of a supporting argument. FTE with a lack of advancement opportunity is still better than permatemping.
posted by halation at 4:55 PM on December 12, 2018


Especially because before Obamacare it determined whether or not you had access to decent health insurance.
posted by bleep at 5:05 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I would guess the odds are quite high that if you work for a company that has a contract with Google to supply workers such as you, Google has agreed with your company NOT to offer you a job.
posted by jamjam at 5:45 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think we can all agree that anyone who earns $50k in a few months and then spends it in the remainder of the year by taking their family to live on a beach is a stupid strawman and it doesn't matter how many people earn less than that, they aren't taking annual beach vacations either.

Really? I mean, I literally know people from online who boast about how they work high-paying contract gigs for half the year and spend the other half on the beach/trekking/whatever. Admittedly, that's $50,000 USD, but these aren't straw people, they're people who can get high-paying short term contracts fairly easily.
posted by Frowner at 5:49 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


I’ve worked as consulting creative director for a couple large companies. One for two years and one for four years. One reason I was brought on was that they needed someone quickly and didn’t have time to go through the entire HR process. A bigger issue was that they didn’t have the budget to fill that position with a full time hire even though it was a lot more expensive to have me there as a consultant. This is obviously a problem with how companies budget for workers and I suspect that it’s a fairly common issue.
posted by misterpatrick at 6:17 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Yes, really. They don't have families and they aren't saving for retirement or bad luck and the three people ever who actually had the life they wanted out of it are Tim Ferris, a.k.a the stupid strawman.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:49 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Ok. So let's take a look at a department that has a mix of existing 'standard business' work and a healthy dose of new initiative at work.

A portion of the standard business work is cutting edge, on new technologies, has new aspects to it - but for the most part it is a defined process or shoehorning something slightly new into a defined process. Work is a defined stream, and as long as that branch of the department can manage their rush and new jobs - the work can be done in a fixed amount time with a fixed amount of effort. As changes occur - more 'new initiatives' rise though - tests, program expansions, etc... the amount of time to handle the 'standard business' drops. In order to keep up with the workflow, you need to bring on additional labor to bring response times and SLAs within business expectations. CTVs are great as a release valve in this situation.

So then there's this other wing of the department which is working on purely new initiatives and planning. Some of these folks know what they need, but they may not have the skills to spin up this new project - but, more importantly, once the project is spun up, the technical knowledge is not necessary for maintenance of said project. For this reason, this branch may bring on highly skilled CTVs to spin up a project fast, having done so at either a different company OR in a different department before. These CTVs are technical experts, and - yes, they may represent a level of technical expertise, but the business doesn't necessarily have enough work to keep them full time; their specific skills may be too expensive to twiddle their thumbs. If they are not, well then maybe the initiative may be spun up amid a 'fail fast' flurry of tasks, and you don't know whether the project is really live until it makes it out of the rapid deployment phase. As such, you might have the whole team supported by CTVs at different levels. This can also be the case for unexpected projects, new initiatives, and unbudgeted headcount that crop up over the course of a year. Sometimes there is funding for FTEs, but sometimes you have to start with a few CTVs to start...

I'm dead set against CTVs. I push to bring my folks over to FTE as quickly as possible, but sometimes that isn't possible. I'm looking at doing a conversion this year, but that's because I'm lucky enough to be on the bleeding edge for my company - and not standard business. In standard business - they're looking at a slow phase out of a few of their CTVs over the next few years. It doesn't matter that I can plot a course right now and establish domain expertise on a different topic with just a small twist of their knowledge base... there will be necessary attrition at some point and ... well... its safer to have that planned - and everyone benefits up until that point...
posted by Nanukthedog at 6:52 PM on December 12, 2018


I think that we can agree that earning 50k in a few months is not enough to sit around on the beautiful, famous beaches of Victoria, BC for the remainder of the year

I bet it's pretty cheap on James Bay.
posted by JackFlash at 7:20 PM on December 12, 2018


That phase-out never seems to actually happen with CTVs, though, because managers treat employees and contractors like pawns on a chessboard and losing any pawns means they lose power. Otherwise they'd hire FTE in the first place and then not replace the ones that naturally move on after 2-5 years.
posted by muddgirl at 7:24 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the standard kickback rate is for a middle-tier executive from a temp company to make sure people stay temp.
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 7:25 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


No need, if you're talking about specific people. Most agencies have some kind of no-hire clause in their contracts.
posted by praemunire at 7:48 PM on December 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


It just so happens that last week the National Labor Relations Board, newly stocked with a majority of Trump appointees, is going to change the rules pertaining to the definition of a "joint employer" to reduce the liability of companies with respect to what they call "non-employees."

In 2015, the Obama administration liberalized the rules and now the Trump administration is reversing it. Under the Obama rules, for example, McDonald's franchisee workers could hold the McDonalds franchise liable for certain worker rights as a "joint employer". Under the Trump rules, workers can only hold their direct employer, a single franchisee, responsible for such things as institutional discrimination.

Likewise, Google contractors or janitorial or cafeteria temps who work through an agency or third-party contractor cannot hold Google responsible for workplace violations.

Elections have consequences.
posted by JackFlash at 8:10 PM on December 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


A perspective that one of my friends hold is that vendors (i.e. what Microsoft calls its TVCs) get to do work that is necessary but neither promotable nor automatable. This friend saw a co-worker struggle as FTE (because they kept getting work that stretched them more than they were willing to go) and return as a vendor. The friend thinks the co-worker is much happier now because they are able to stay within their comfort zone.

[I'm never sure about this friend's positions, but here's one of his thoughts that seems relevant.]
posted by batter_my_heart at 9:39 PM on December 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hey MissySedai I worked at Google then too. I wonder if we met? The Google Answers team was awesome and I'm really sorry that product didn't work out for Google, it was great. One of your colleagues totally saved me from a shady moving company back in 2002. Looking back at that, the amount of work someone did researching my question is extraordinary.

Around that same era (~2004) Google also ran a temp-to-hire program to staff up Adwords Support. In the early days of AdWords, in its arrogance, Google assumed it wouldn't need to have any people answering questions of AdWords customers. Once they figured out this was the business that was gonna make the money they realized they had to hire up a support program. So they hired a bunch of temps right out of undergrad, often from very good colleges (like Stanford). And all run through a tough temp-to-hire gauntlet with people being cut loose every day who weren't working out. I understand it was a totally terrible experience for the temps. It also resulted in Google hiring a very good permanent support staff. Ugly incentives.

The woman who created that temp-to-hire program is now the COO of Facebook. She's got her own tag here on Metafilter.
posted by Nelson at 1:23 AM on December 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm impressed with the protests by Google employees this year. The giant walkout over sexism (TVCs were given the nod to participate), the protests against collaborating with the Chinese government, and now this TVC-rights petition. Internally some Google employees have always felt empowered to criticize management, particularly the engineers who have strong job security. But these kinds of mass public employee actions are new.
posted by Nelson at 1:32 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


If they don't want to be your employee then maybe you should not run your whole project on them.

Bus factor also applies to permies.
posted by Leon at 4:26 AM on December 13, 2018


> I wonder what the standard kickback rate is for a middle-tier executive from a temp company to make sure people stay temp.

The kickback flows the other way, IMO. Gotta stay on that PSL.
posted by Leon at 4:57 AM on December 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Nothing in those excerpts from the Google document was unusual. Full-time employees are treated differently than contractors/freelancers because they are different. If you want the secrets of the temple, become a full-time employee, or if you don't like where you work, find a company that hires their contractors when positions become open.
posted by prepmonkey at 8:37 AM on December 14, 2018


I work in a company where agency workers make up a large percentage of software development. They are usually in Eastern Europe but work in distributed teams with FTEs in other locations. In many cases the contractors have been on teams for years and have more app knowledge than some FTEs. There are lots of reasons why this persists but differential treatment is a challenge for teams. The whole idea of an agile team (or any good team) is that the team itself figures out how to accomplish what the business is asking for. So teams trying to live by that value end up treating contractors just like anyone else and giving them ownership, a voice, and autonomy to do what's needed. But then this clashes with InfoSec philosopy, customer contracts with specifications about data access, etc. and of course it creates a long-term company knowledge problem: you spend a ton of time training and investing in people who don't "really"work for you. Personally I hate having to go to a senior team member who's a contractor and saying "sorry, Bob, you can't have access to that server. I can have a FTE run that query *for* you and send you the results ..."
posted by freecellwizard at 9:48 AM on December 14, 2018


If you want the secrets of the temple, become a full-time employee, or if you don't like where you work, find a company that hires their contractors when positions become open.

AAHAHAHAHAHAaahahahahahahahahaaa...

Right. Just... change careers into an industry where most companies hire people instead of contracting with staffing companies for every task that's not legally provable as part of their "core purpose."

The current trend in tech industries - and tech is a huge category, not limited to software companies - is to avoid FTEs for any purposes they can possibly hire through staffing companies. This protects them from a lot of legal liability, means they never have to negotiate benefits or bonuses, never pay commissions, avoids the hassles of annual employee reviews, dodges the responsibility of training and improvement plans, and means that firing is instant and easy.

It has the side benefit of union-busting; it's almost impossible for contractors to unionize, since they can't even find the other people "employed by" the same company. (I have no idea if you can unionize based on where you're working at instead of based on who signs your paycheck, but I expect it'd be difficult, especially in today's legal system.)

Utility companies, hospitals, tech manufacturers, and transportation industries all like to use contractors for all of their office activities, cleaning needs, IT services, and maintenance work, because they can argue those aren't "essential functions" of the business. They may do temp-to-hire for their core business activities, because that reduces liability and some of the hassles of finding out whether the person is a good fit. But for receptionists, data entry, cleaning staff... they're entirely content for those to be 18-month rotating personnel, forever. After all, why hire someone who wants a raise every year when the job itself doesn't change?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:13 AM on December 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


If you want the secrets of the temple, become a full-time employee

jeez it's so simple! i wonder why they didn't think of doing that?
guess they sure must be dumb!
posted by halation at 1:11 PM on December 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


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