More Than 600 Google Employees Demand Abortion Care Protections

More than 650 Google workers have signed a petition lobbying for the company to create policies that would protect and provide support for employees and consumers seeking abortion care. 

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Workers for Google are demanding that the company extends access to reproductive healthcare benefits that are already offered to full-time employees; the goal is to grant these same protections to temporary and contract workers. 

The workers are also asking that the company stop any sort of political lobbying of politicians and organizations “because these politicians were responsible for appointing the supreme court justices who overturned Roe vs. Wade and continue to infringe on other human rights issues.” 

Additionally, they’re demanding that Google stop storing health-related data of employees that could be used to criminalize individuals, while also addressing the amount of misinformation found in Google search results. 

The petition was addressed to company executives such as Google’s chief executive Sundar Pichai, head of human resources Fiona Cicconi, and the vice-president of advertisements Jerry Dischler. The petition was circulated by the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), a “minority or members-only union of about 1,000 Google workers.”  

Alejandra Beatty, a technical program manager at Google-owned Verily and a steward for AWU, said that the “union’s demands are lofty, for instance, workers in the union discussed asking that Google only donate to certain politicians rather than stop all of its lobbying efforts. But the stakes are too high to go in softly.”

“It is a healthcare problem. That is a concern for labor. It is a labor right. So that is where we are focusing the conversation on: this is healthcare necessary for all employees and we all should have it.”

The AWU in general was formed after the Google walkout in 2018, during which 20,000 employees around the world left their offices in protest of the way the company handled sexual harassment complaints. 

The overall goal of the AWU is to uplift employee’s voices on matters of ethics and workplace issues, hence the fight for reproductive healthcare rights amid the supreme court’s decision regarding abortion rights in America. 

“We’re trying to make the point that the whole entire system is broken and democracy needs to be returned to the people, to the citizens,” Beatty explained. 

“Companies should not be involved in this space and until there is a better system where that undue influence is not there, there’s just no way to [lobby politicians] without participating in a fundamentally broken system.”

One of the biggest concerns over bringing up this issue to executives is the current state of the job market and economic climate. Tech companies have already been laying off hundreds of employees within the past few months, making it difficult or intimidating for workers to take a stand against their employers. 

“I remain hopeful for a reasonable response from Google, the union has already seen some indications of support from lower level leadership,” Beatty stated before explaining their specific demands. 

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“The petition calls for immediate user data privacy controls for all health-related activity, and that information, which could tie someone to seeking abortion care, can never be saved, handed over to law enforcement, or treated as a crime.” 

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“If companies really care about protecting themselves and their customers from many types of risk, they should implement end-to-end encryption and stop collecting our data. Most crucially, we also need a national data privacy law to help close our collective Pandora’s Box,” said Jackie Singh, a director at Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.

Beatty said “it’s a complex problem for company employees. We recognize that law enforcement could seek non-health-related data that could serve to criminalize those seeking abortions, but she’s not sure if wiping out all of the data companies like Google has on everyone is a viable option for the company. At the same time, I’ve heard activists discouraging people from using Google products entirely.”

“Frankly, I don’t know how Google ads would then continue to run [without user data]. It’s part of how the company makes money. But what’s that like when we have more and more users who just don’t feel like they can even trust our systems and then they stop using them. We don’t wanna be there either,” said Beatty.

Singh said she commends “the workers on their ongoing efforts, but the most rational policy would be to enable end-to-end encryption. Asking the company to focus on protecting one type of data may actually introduce more privacy concerns.”

“Unfortunately, anytime we ask organizations to be more specific about detecting certain types of content, we’re essentially asking them to improve their surveillance capabilities to achieve this,” she said, explaining that “the company would have to more deeply analyze content to determine if it’s abortion related.”