Something has changed for the tech giants. Even as they continue to hold tremendous influence in our daily lives, a growing accountability movement has begun to check their power. Led in large part by tech workers themselves, a movement seeking reform of how these companies do business, treat their employees, and conduct themselves as global citizens has taken on unprecedented momentum, particularly in the past year.
Concerns and anger over tech companies’ impact in the world is nothing new, of course. What’s changed is that workers are increasingly getting organized. Whether writing public letters, marching in protest, filing lawsuits, or unionizing, the labor force that makes the corporate tech world run is finding its voice, demanding a future in which companies do better and are held more responsible for their actions.
week to remember
It began with a Facebook outage. For some six hours on October 4, 2021, services for its 3.5 billion users across the world were unreachable. The timing couldn’t have been worse for the company: just hours before, whistleblower Frances Haugen had dropped a series of damning revelations about Facebook’s willingness to put corporate goals above ethics and its users’ well-being. The stock price plunged. On the 5th, a Tuesday, Haugen would unflinchingly testify for three and a half hours before the United States Senate Commerce Committee on how “Facebook consistently chose to prioritize its profits” over public safety.
If executives at Facebook and other tech companies hoped Haugen would be an outlier, Ifeoma Ozoma had other plans: a day after Haugen’s testimony, Ozoma and several colleagues launched the Tech Worker Handbook online. Ozoma was herself a whistleblower, having called out racial and gender discrimination at Pinterest, together with her coworker Aerica Shimizu Banks, in 2020. Since then, she has become something of an inspiration for whistleblowers in the tech world. “I’ve heard from tech workers asking for advice since I first went public,” she says. She responded to hundreds of people individually, but to her that solution was just “not scalable,” so she used what she’d learned from those experiences to build the website. It got 30,000 hits on the first day.
The handbook guides potential whistleblowers on how to handle the media, explains legal rights, and teaches both online safety—to avoid corporate surveillance, for example—and offline tactics, like how to get through a doxxing campaign. “Preparedness is power,” says the front page. “Individuals should not have to rely on whisper networks for justice.” The site received an effusive response online and endorsements from activists, researchers, and other whistleblowers.
Just a day after publishing her handbook, Ozoma notched another major victory for accountability: on October 7, California governor Gavin Newsom signed bill SB 331 into law.
Also known as the Silenced No More Act, the bill protects workers who speak out about discrimination and harassment, even if they’ve signed a nondisclosure agreement, a common practice in the tech industry. The bill was written by state senator Connie M. Leyva and cosponsored by Ozoma, who drew from her whistleblowing and policy knowledge to help shape it. “Forty million people is a big fucking deal,” she says, referring to California’s population. “And if it would end there it would be a big fucking deal.”
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It didn’t end there. As the law was making its way through the legislative system, a coalition of companies spearheaded by Ozoma pushed other tech firms to commit to extending its protection to all employees, not just those based in California. Expensify and Twilio agreed, but “it’s been a different story with Apple, Google, Facebook, Etsy, and a number of other companies,” Ozoma says.
Undeterred, the Transparency in Employment Agreements Coalition worked within the guidelines of the US Securities and Exchange Commission to file shareholder resolutions with seven technology companies, pushing them to extend the Silenced No More protections to all employees. Apple tried to get the proposal thrown out, but in late December the SEC ruled that the proposal does not “seek to micromanage the company,” as Apple claimed, meaning shareholders can now vote on it. If it’s passed at the March 4 annual meeting, the company will have to publish a public report on the use of concealment clauses in cases of discrimination or harassment.
The Silenced No More Act went into effect on January 1, 2022. Even if every shareholder proposal effort fails, workers who live in California have been liberated from the restrictions that NDAs impose. The new law all but guarantees that new voices will step forward to bring their experiences to light.
“All of the work that we’re doing
By: Jane Lytvynenko
Title: Why the balance of power in tech is shifting toward workers
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2022/02/07/1044760/tech-workers-unionizing-power/
Published Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2022 10:00:00 +0000
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