Google workers demand equal abortion benefits as state bans go into effect

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A Google employee marches towards City Hall during the Global Climate Strike in Seattle, Washington, on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Thousands of workers at Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. walked out without their bosses blessings to protest rising global temperatures.
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Bambi Okugawa is a data center technician in one of Google’s data centers in a U.S. state with one of the strictest abortion bans in the nation: Tennessee. The state will ban abortions as early as six weeks, with no exceptions for rape or incest, on Aug. 25 due to a “trigger law.”

If needed, Okugawa, could get an out-of-state abortion and could even request a permanent transfer to a different Google office due to the health benefits she gets as a full-time Google employee. However, her colleagues — many of whom are contractors — don’t get those same options.

“Some of my TVC coworkers are scared,” Okugawa told CNBC, referring to a Google term that stands for temps, vendors and contractors. “Some told me they have been seeking sterilization options because they know there won’t be access to abortions in the state.”

Okugawa is one of several hundred Google employees who have signed a petition sent to the company’s management this week asking that contractors get the same benefits in obtaining abortion and healthcare services after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The letter, which is written by members of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, is addressed to Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Google chief people officer Fiona Cicconi, Bobby Dhanoa, who oversees Google’s “extended workforce,” and Google’s chief diversity officer Melonie Parker.

“In order to align with Google’s core values (go/3-google-values), we demand that Alphabet acknowledges the impact this Supreme Court ruling has on all its workers and to immediately do the following: Protect all workers’ access to reproductive healthcare by setting a reproductive healthcare standard in the US Wages and Benefits Standards (go/alphabet-tvc-benefits-standards) including: Extending the same travel-for-healthcare benefits offered to FTEs to TVCs,” the letter says.

In June, Google sent a companywide email about the historic Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, explaining how the company’s U.S. benefits plan and health insurance cover out-of-state medical procedures that are not available where an employee lives and works. While other tech companies began offering similar benefits for out-of-state abortions, Google went further by saying employees in affected states can apply for relocation without having to explain why.

However, all of those benefits only apply to full-time employees. The company has 174,014 full-time employees as of July. It has more than 100,000 contractors, known internally as “TVCs.”

“Their level of healthcare benefits is not as high as we’re provided as full-time employees,” Okugawa said of contractors. Okugawa knows because, up until six months ago, she was still a contractor before the company made her a full-time employee.

The employee petition is also asking for a minimum of seven days of additional sick time because workers will need to travel for significant periods to obtain health services.

“Google is probably one of the biggest household names as far as tech companies go — when you search online you don’t say I’m gonna search this you say ‘I’m gonna Google this,'” Okugawa said. “So, it’s only right we display a sense of compassion, empathy and fairness with anyone contracting with the company who should get the same protections and sustainability of life offered to regular employees.”

A Google spokesperson wasn’t immediately available to comment.

The Alphabet Workers Union-CWA has more than 1,100 members in various locations across the company, but otherwise operates through a “minority union” model, meaning it doesn’t have bargaining rights with leadership.

The group hopes to earn wins as it did in Kansas City, Missouri, where employees working on a Google product unionized for the first time under AWU in March. Meanwhile, in June, Google Maps contractors won a 90-day extension on a return to office timeline after threatening to go on strike.

The petition also asks for an increase to $150 per night in travel reimbursement. “$50 is NOT a viable reimbursement for a hotel stay in most states, and does not address childcare or lost wages,” the petition states.

The document requests the company publish a TVC “transparency report,” detailing vendors’ compliance with the Google US Wages and Benefits Standards. 

And employees also asked the company to fix its search results for abortion services. Products like Google Maps have allegedly regularly led abortion seekers to pro-life religious centers. When users type the words “abortion clinic” into the Google Maps search bar, for example, crisis pregnancy centers accounted for a quarter of the top 10 search results across all 50 U.S. states, according to data Bloomberg collected.

Google said in July it will work to quickly delete location history for people going to abortion sites and other medical sites following the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.  

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