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Google Maps Employees Say They Can’t Afford the Trip Back to the Office


Google Maps contract employees who’re required to return to their office in Washington State recently circulated a petition to maintain working from home since some cannot afford their commutes, presenting one other challenge to Google’s plan to refill offices and restore campus life.

The problem affects greater than 200 employees who’re employed by the outsourcing firm Cognizant Technology Solutions, which mandated that they work in an office in Bothell five days per week starting on June 6. The employees play a vital role updating routes and destinations on Google Maps, a service utilized by greater than one billion people a month.

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

“Gas is around $5 per gallon currently, and lots of of us within the office should not in a position to afford to live near 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 Employees Union, which has greater than 900 members employed by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and its suppliers.

Full-time Google employees with office jobs have been told to are available three days per week. In interviews, the Cognizant employees called for a similar flexibility. Starting June 6, they are going to not have access to work systems from home.

After the Omicron variant crushed corporations’ hopes for a return to in-person work late last 12 months, a latest R.T.O. chapter now appears to be opening.

The policies highlight disparities between Google’s direct employees and contractors. Google is estimated to have well greater than 100,000 temporary, vendor and contract employees who spend their time on Google projects but officially work for other corporations. Google doesn’t disclose the number.

Cognizant said in a press release that its return-to-office policy trusted the type of work employees did and the needs of its clients. “The health and safety of our employees stays our top priority, and we require our employees to be vaccinated to return to our offices in the US,” Jeff DeMarrais, Cognizant’s chief communications officer, wrote in an email.

Courtenay Mencini, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a press release that the health of its community, including contract employees, was an organization priority. Google gave its suppliers in Washington State 90 days’ notice for employees to return to the office, and people suppliers decided the best way to execute that policy, she said.

The contractors in Washington said most of them made between $16 and $28 an hour, far lower than typical full-time Google employees. Cognizant managers denied their requests for gas cards or other financial offsets. They said they hadn’t been offered Google’s private bus services — a preferred perk in Silicon Valley — to ease their commutes.

Tyler Brown, a maps operator who was hired throughout the pandemic, estimated that he would must spend $280 of his $1,000 biweekly pay on gas to drive his 2006 Toyota Sienna to the office, 73 miles away from his home in Olympia, Wash.

“I’m getting paid $19 an hour,” Mr. Brown said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to proceed to do” the job. He plans to quit if the return-to-office plan goes ahead.

William Houser, a geospatial data specialist, also said he was wary of an extended, expensive commute. His 100-mile round trip every day from Puyallup, Wash., would take greater than 4 hours total. He began the job in April 2021, 13 months after Google closed its offices.

The Cognizant employees expressed other concerns. They said managers had given them 40 days’ notice to work in person, not a promised 60-day minimum. Meaning less time to search out child care or move. They usually are afraid of contracting Covid-19 within the office.

That’s of particular concern to Shelby Hunter, a policy trainer who has had 4 lung operations. He said his bosses had told him that the return-to-office plan had no medical exemptions.

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

Google, which expanded its office footprint throughout the coronavirus pandemic, has used perks like free electric scooters and a concert by the pop star Lizzo to entice 164,000 employees to return to campuses. The search giant approved 85 percent of employees’ requests to work remotely or transfer to a distinct location last 12 months.

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