Google Maps employees who are required to return to their offices in Washington state recently petitioned to continue working from home as some are unable to pay for their commute. This presents a new challenge to Google’s plan to fill offices and restore life on campus.
The problem affects more than 200 employees employed by outsourcing company Cognizant Technology Solutions, which has forced them to work five days a week in an office in Bothell from June 6. Employees play a vital role in updating routes and destinations on Google Maps , a service used by more than a billion people every month.
About 60 percent of the 200 employees signed the petition. They demanded that managers suspend the timeline of returning to the office and address the employees’ financial, health and childcare problems first.
“Gas currently costs about $5 a gallon, and many of us in the office can’t afford to live close to the office because of our low salaries and the high cost of housing in Bothell,” the Cognizant employees wrote. The petition was supported by the Alphabet Workers Union, which has more than 900 members employed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and its suppliers.
Full-time Google employees with office jobs have been told to come three days a week. In interviews, Cognizant employees called for the same flexibility. From June 6, they will no longer have access to work systems from home.
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The policy highlights the differences between Google’s direct employees and contractors. It is estimated that Google has more than 100,000 temporary, supplier and contract workers who spend their time on Google projects, but officially work for other companies. Google does not disclose the number.
Cognizant said in a statement that its return policy depended on the type of work its employees did and the needs of its customers. “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority, and we demand that our employees be vaccinated before returning to our offices in the United States,” Jeff DeMarrais, Cognizant’s Chief Communications Officer, wrote in an email.
Courtenay Mencini, a Google spokeswoman, said in a statement that community health, including contract workers, was a company priority. Google gave its suppliers in Washington state 90 days’ notice for employees to return to the office, and those suppliers decided how to implement that policy, she said.
The Washington contractors said most of them were earning between $16 and $28 an hour, far less than the typical full-time Google employees. Conscious managers declined their requests for gas cards or other financial compensation. They said they hadn’t gotten private bus services from Google — a popular Silicon Valley perk — to make their commute easier.
Tyler Brown, a mapping operator hired during the pandemic, estimated that he would have to spend $280 of his $1,000 biweekly salary on gasoline to drive his 2006 Toyota Sienna to the office, 117 miles from his home in Olympia. Wash.
“I get paid $19 an hour,” Mr. Brown said. “It makes no sense to me to” keep doing the job. He plans to quit if the return-to-office plan goes through.
William Houser, a geospatial data specialist, also said he was wary of a long, expensive commute. His 100-mile-a-day round trip from Puyallup, Wash., would take more than four hours in total. He started the job in April 2021, 13 months after Google closed its offices.
Cognizant employees expressed different concerns. They said managers had given them 40 days’ notice to work in person, not a promised 60-day minimum. That means less time to look for childcare or to move. And they are afraid of contracting Covid-19 in the office.
That’s a particular concern for Shelby Hunter, a policy trainer who has had four lung surgeries. He said his bosses had told him the return to office plan contained no medical exceptions.
“I like knowing that the work I do makes a difference,” said Mr. Hunter. “It feels like I’ve been disrespected.”
Expanding its office footprint during the coronavirus pandemic, Google has used perks like free electric scooters and a concert by pop star Lizzo to entice 164,000 workers to return to campuses. The search giant approved 85 percent of employees’ requests to work remotely or move to another location last year.