Uber Will Let Employees Join May 1 Protest, Because Unlimited Vacation

Some tech companies are trying to support workers who want to walk out on May Day — but face challenges protecting those who most need to go

Illustration: Diana Quach
Apr 26, 2017 at 4:56 PM ET

Since Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on refugees and immigrants, some workers in Silicon Valley have asked their CEOs to be more vocal in protest. Now, as a major day of national protest takes shape against Trump’s anti-worker and anti-immigrant policies, tech companies are being pushed to let workers exercise their protest rights.

Recently, Facebook and Google made it clear that they won’t penalize employees for taking a day off and participating in the protests happening in the Bay Area on International Worker’s Day on May 1. Other companies have been silent, however. Vocativ reached out to Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Uber, and Twitter a week ago, but only Uber replied by saying it offers unlimited paid time off so employees are welcome to take time off when they want to.

“With the Women’s March, we knew employees would be interesting in attending, so we asked that folks give a heads up to their manager,” an Uber spokesperson told Vocativ. “But again, they were paid given our unlimited vacation policy.”

The statements made by Uber, Google, and Facebook, however, unintentionally highlight some of the challenges many low-wage and contracted workers face in the United States. Uber’s drivers, for example, don’t get that paid vacation because they aren’t classified as employees — and therefore would miss out on a full day’s pay for participating.

Similarly, at Facebook and Google and other tech companies, many of the lower-paid workers, including security guards, janitors, shuttle-bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, are not direct employees but work for sub-contractors. And they tend not to get the same lavish perks as do Facebook’s engineers or Google’s coders.

Facebook told Bloomberg it will make sure its vendors are also allowing their staff to take the day, saying if they don’t, then Facebook will revaluate its ties with the vendor. “At Facebook, we’re committed to fostering an inclusive workplace where employees feel comfortable expressing their opinions and speaking up,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We support our people in recognizing International Worker’s Day and other efforts to raise awareness for safe and equitable employment conditions.”

Google followed Facebook’s statement a week after saying it will give employees the green light to protest and also encouraged its vendors to do the same.

“We respect everyone’s choice to act on their beliefs,” a Google spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. “We care deeply about creating an environment at Google where everyone — employees and contractors, engineers, cafeteria workers and janitorial staff — feels comfortable doing so. We’re asking managers to be flexible in accommodating time-off requests and have let out vendor partners know that we support them doing the same.”

Although both Facebook and Google said they would revaluate ties with vendors who penalize employees for walking out and protesting, neither company disclosed how they’ll protect employees who are affected.

The statement’s put out by Facebook and Google are partly thanks to pressure from California-based labor groups such as the Tech Worker’s Coalition, UNITE HERE and Silicon Valley Rising. These groups have been going around Silicon Valley to convince companies to make a public commitment to ensure all workers (high-paid employees and low-wage subcontractors) are able to safely participate in any May Day activities.

This is not the first big immigration-related protest of the year. In February, more than 1,000 Yemeni-owned bodegas and grocery stores closed across New York City to protest Trump’s administration’s policies. Then, later that month, immigrants from around the country decided to skip work or cut class to show how different the U.S. would be in a “day without immigrants.”