Google Maps workers say they can’t afford the ride back to the office

Google Maps contract employees who must return to their office in Washington state recently circulated a petition to continue working from home as some are unable to pay for their trips, presenting another challenge to Google’s plan to replenish offices and restore campus life.

The problem affects more than 200 workers employed by outsourcing company Cognizant Technology Solutions, which ordered them to work out of an office in Bothell five days a week starting June 6. Workers play an essential role in updating routes and destinations on Google Maps. , a service used by more than a billion people a month.

About 60 percent of the 200 workers signed the petition. They demanded that managers suspend the return-to-office schedule and first address employees’ financial, health and childcare concerns.

“Gasoline currently costs about $5 a gallon, and many of us in the office cannot afford to live near the office due to our low wages and high cost of housing in Bothell,” Cognizant employees wrote.

Full-time Google employees with office jobs have been told to come in three days a week. In interviews, Cognizant employees asked for the same flexibility. As of June 6, they will no longer have access to work-from-home systems.

The policies highlight disparities between Google’s direct employees and contractors. Google is estimated to have more than 100,000 temporary workers, vendors and contractors 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-to-office policy depended on the type of work employees did and the needs of its customers. “The health and safety of our employees remains our top priority, and we require our employees to be vaccinated before returning to our offices in the United States,” Jeff DeMarrais, Cognizant’s director of communications, wrote in an email.

Courtenay Mencini, a Google spokeswoman, said in a statement that the health of her community, including outsourced workers, was a company priority. Google gave its vendors in Washington state a 90-day notice for workers to return to the office, and those vendors decided how to enforce that policy, she said.

Contractors in Washington said most made between $16 and $28 an hour, far less than typical full-time Google employees. Cognizant managers denied their requests for gas cards or other financial compensation. They said they hadn’t been offered Google’s private bus services, a popular perk in Silicon Valley, to make their travels easier.

Tyler Brown, a map operator who was hired during the pandemic, estimated that he would have to spend $280 of his $1,000 biweekly salary on gas to drive his 2006 Toyota Sienna to the office, 73 miles from his home in Olympia, Washington. .

“I get paid $19 an hour,” said Mr. Brown. “There is no point in me continuing to do” the work. He plans to resign if the back-to-office plan goes ahead.

William Houser, a geospatial data specialist, also said he was wary of a long and expensive journey. His 100-mile round trip each day from Puyallup, Washington, would take more than four hours total. He started the job in April 2021, 13 months after Google closed its offices.

Cognizant employees raised other concerns. They said managers had given them 40 days’ notice to work in person, not the promised 60-day minimum. That means less time to find child care or move. And they are afraid of contracting Covid-19 in the office.

That’s of particular concern to Shelby Hunter, a policy coach who has had four lung operations. She said she had been told by her bosses that the back-to-office plan had no medical exemptions.

“I like knowing that the work I do makes a difference,” Mr. Hunter said. “It just feels like I’ve been disrespected.”

Google, which expanded its office footprint during the coronavirus pandemic, has used perks like free electric scooters and a concert by pop star Lizzo to lure 164,000 employees back to campus. The search giant approved 85 percent of employee requests to work remotely or transfer to a different location last year.

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