The Secret and Frustrating Life of a Google Contract Worker

The Secret and Frustrating Life of a Google Contract Worker

Photo Credit: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Half of Google’s workers are temporary, vendor, or contract staff
  • They miss out on many of the famous benefits and perks
  • Last year, a group of TVCs called for better benefits

Kevin Kiprovski had a lofty title, “Expeditions Associate,” and a fun job – he got to demo Google virtual reality gear to young students. When visiting schools, he wore a grey T-shirt with a cartoon whale and a Google logo. But sometimes the company’s reputation made things awkward. Once, a teacher confronted Kiprovski. “‘How do you feel walking in here, showing stuff, when you know you’re making so much more than all of us?'” he recalled the teacher asking.

“I had to tell her,” he said, “‘I only make $40,000 (roughly Rs. 28.5 lakhs) a year.” He left out another revealing detail: Kiprovski didn’t actually work for Google.

He worked for Vaco Nashville, one of several staffing and contract firms Google uses. Kiprovski resigned in October and sent a blistering internal email criticising the disparities of Google’s two-tiered workforce. While Google’s use of contract labour has received more attention in the past year, the company continued to take steps that meant contractors “are left out of conversations that affect our lives,” Kiprovski wrote. His email travelled widely within Google, which is reeling from internal turmoil over labour issues and how much say its gigantic staff should have over the company’s direction.

More than half of Google’s workers are temporary, vendor or contract staff, known as TVCs. This shadow workforce misses out on many of the famous benefits and perks that have burnished the Internet giant’s reputation as one of the world’s best places to work. Last year, a group of TVCs called for better benefits and in September, TVCs working as data analysts in Pittsburgh voted to unionise, a rarity for the tech industry.

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Kiprovski’s resignation highlights a predicament many TVCs face: They hold jobs that require them to act as representatives of Google, but they don’t actually work for the company.

Kiprovski began as a Google TVC in early 2018, working on a team that expanded Google’s reach into schools. His early hopes for the job soon slipped away. Turnover in his division was high and the schedules were inflexible. His responsibilities grew, but his compensation didn’t. “I got promoted four times with barely any increase in pay or benefits or anything,” he said.

He felt handicapped in other ways. Google uses scores of internal documents to plan projects and store information. This summer, the company cut TVC access to these documents, citing security concerns. Google also blocked contractors from many online social groups within the company. The “TVC Lockdown,” as staff named it, came without warning, Kirpovski said. Multiple employees at Google and its contracting firms confirmed these events.

A Google spokeswoman said these decisions were part of standard customer data-security measures and that temporary staff were notified of the change and still have access to the tools needed to perform their work. She added that TVCs are under a different policy for promotions than direct staff.

Thousands of TVCs work at Google in white-collar jobs behind the scenes — marketing products or screening YouTube videos, for example. Kiprovski, though, had a job — pitching Google services inside schools — that required representing the company to the outside world.

Other TVCs also have jobs that require they toe an awkward line of being the public face of Google while not being on Google’s direct payroll. At some company offices, contractors escort Google job candidates and new hires around campus, taking them to interviews and answering small-talk questions during walks. The job candidates would often ask, “What are your favourite perks of being a Googler?” said one person who had the escort job. The tour guide would then have to explain: he wasn’t actually a Googler.