Mountainview, California—Union activists marched through a tree-lined hilltop plaza at Google’s Mountainview headquarters Thursday afternoon, chanting, “No Union, No Peace!” Outside Google’s tall glass buildings, a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) official joined subcontracted Google security guard Manny Cardenas in asking a Google representative for an audience with company CEO Larry Page. After being rebuffed, they left the staffer with a letter condemning the treatment of the campus’ subcontracted security workers, which they charged contradicts the tech giant’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto.
“People use the phrase Google-y, basically to mean that it’s ethical,” South Bay Labor Council Executive Director Ben Field told the assembled crowd after the letter was delivered. “Well, I’m here to tell you—and all of the employees at Google—that SIS is not Google-y.”
SIS stands for Security Industry Specialists, a California-based security firm contracted by Google. The petition delivery was SEIU’s latest effort by to hold Google to account for the working conditions of SIS security guards on Google’s Silicon Valley campus. SEIU alleges that, unlike a previous Google contractor, SIS employs most of its workers as part-timers who can’t get enough hours to qualify for health insurance or sick days. SIS has also been sued by employees for alleged break violations and gender and sexual orientation harassment.
The crowd of about a hundred protesters included attendees bused in from the Netroots Nation conference and members of SEIU and other labor groups like OUR Walmart, but only a single SIS employee: Manny Cardenas. Organizers said that other SIS employees were too scared to go public.
Cardenas, 24, told The Nation that a lack of hours at SIS has left him to rely on his parents’ health plan to insure himself, and on Medicaid to insure his daughter. “I didn’t feel that was right,” said Cardenas. According to Cardenas, employees are left waiting for a text message or phone call from management each week to find out whether they’ll be working; he said he’s shown up for a scheduled shift only to discover that the company decided to give it to a more favored employee instead. According to SEIU, Cardenas hadn’t been offered any shifts since February—up until the company offered him work for the day of the protest.
SEIU’s campaign targeting Google is one of an array of labor efforts to organize workers through pressure at multiple points along the supply chain. Such efforts have taken on increasing urgency for organized labor as the rise of subcontracting has left more workers asking, “Who’s the boss?” While increasing numbers of workers are subject to the business model of a company that’s not the one actually signing their paycheck, US labor law specifically limits workers’ ability to spread labor struggles from their direct employer to other companies in the supply chain. (The Taft-Hartley Act restricts unions’ ability to stage what scholars call “secondary strikes” and “secondary picketing”—“secondary” meaning actions against a target that’s not the legal employer).