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Facebook Contractors Wanted Better Working Conditions. They Lost Their Jobs Instead.

The contingent Facebook workers in Austin have been organizing to pressure their direct employer, Wipro, for better treatment.

Posted on June 6, 2020, at 9:31 a.m. ET

Kenzo Tribouillard / Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Contract workers for Facebook in Austin, Texas, say they have been retaliated against for union organizing, resulting in two workers’ departure in recent weeks. The workers, who help Facebook find and triage internal bugs, are unhappy with their employer, the India-based firm WiPro, and have been organizing in the workplace to pressure both companies for improvements.

In recent months, the workers have petitioned management over issues including sexism and verbal abuse from WiPro management, issues with parking, and “consistent issues with folks not getting paid,” according to a contingent Facebook worker who requested anonymity to protect his job.

Recently, two people involved in the organizing campaign who were vocal about these issues departed the company. Both had posted heated messages on an internal message board about the need to improve conditions for the contingent workers and encouraging remaining staff to support a union drive, and say their departures followed retaliation from WiPro.

One of those workers quit due to harassment by management, according to a source familiar with the situation. The other individual’s contract was not renewed by WiPro.

“Management is definitely not happy about folks that are trying to speak out and advocate for the issues we have going on here,” the current Facebook contractor said.

Facebook declined to comment on WiPro employees. WiPro denied allegations that it retaliates against employees involved in labor organizing and said it “complies with all applicable rules and regulations wherever it operates.”

Since January, the Communication Workers of America (CWA) labor union has been promoting its Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE). The organization is especially interested in organizing workers who, like the Austin-based contingent Facebook workers, perform work for major tech firms but aren’t directly employed by them. Sources with knowledge of the situation said CWA has been assisting in the Wipro contractors’ efforts.

“Wage theft and worker abuse are completely unacceptable,” said a spokesperson for CWA. “Facebook and its contractor Wipro need to do better. CWA through our Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA) is committed to holding big tech accountable, standing in solidarity with workers organizing for dignity and a voice, and challenging a broken system of labor laws that prop up the invented fictions of endless layers of TVC employment relationships in the industry.”

The contingent Facebook workers in Texas are paid less than full-time Facebook employees, don’t receive the same benefits, and prior to the coronavirus shelter-in-place orders, worked in a different building from Facebook’s regular employees. The contractors’ day-to-day jobs, however, require that they be in regular contact with full-time Facebook employees and use internal Facebook software. The contractors can’t be hired by Facebook directly for at least six months after their WiPro contracts terminate due to a noncompete clause.

“We do a pretty important function, but it’s not valid enough for Facebook to hire us or take care of us,” the Austin-based contractor said.

Facebook hires hundreds of content moderators and other hourly contract workers through firms like WiPro. In mid-March, the Intercept reported that some of those Austin-based employees were being required to report to the office despite shelter-in-place orders, which created health concerns during the coronavirus pandemic.

Previously, Facebook content moderators who worked for another Indian firm, Cognizant, reported that their low-paying, traumatic nature of their jobs was causing rampant mental health issues among the staff, according to the Verge.

The social media giant is also facing blowback from some of its Silicon Valley employees this week, who are frustrated by the company’s refusal to remove posts written by President Trump that call for violence. Some Facebook employees announced they would resign in protest of the company’s policy this week.

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