Google workers push tech giants to end forced arbitration

In a sign of what 2019 may have in store for big tech, Google workers on Tuesday kicked off a campaign demanding a complete end to the practice of forced arbitration.

Forced arbitration, which was one focus of the massive Google Walkout in November, generally means that workers cannot take their employers to court for any complaints but must settle their disputes internally.

During the November protest, organizers demanded the company led by CEO Sundar Pichai end forced arbitration for sexual assault as well as discrimination. After being pressured, the tech giant ended the practice, but only for sexual harassment and sexual assault claims. They also made the change retroactive for sexual harassment claims that were not already in arbitration at the time of the announcement.

Now a group called Googlers For Ending Forced Arbitration has launched a campaign on Twitter and Instagram to pressure other Silicon Valley firms into changing their policies in three crucial ways: First, they want arbitration to be optional for all types of disputes between employers and any employees, temps or contractors. Second, they want to end any class-action waivers that prevent employees from banding together to file lawsuits. And lastly, they don't want any gag rule on arbitration proceedings, so that such proceedings and settlements could be made public.

According to the group, not a single business out of over 30 tech firms and at least 10 contractor suppliers meets the above criteria.

"Forcing workers to agree to arbitration as a condition of employment creates a number injustices," the group said in a statement, noting that forced arbitration settlements typically yield lower damages than the court system and allow employers to limit their disclosure of evidence needed to prove a case.

A source familiar with Google's policies explained that the company has not required confidentiality in terms of the factual elements in arbitration cases. The tech giant is also still reviewing its policies in this area.

In addition, the workers' campaign aims to educate Silicon Valley about arbitration more broadly. The Googlers claim that Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (JAMS) is the private company used by Google, Tesla, Airbnb, Uber and others for their arbitration needs.

This campaign is just the latest sign of a growing movement within the tech industry to hold major companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon accountable for their actions in the broader community along with their treatment of employees internally. Previous efforts have called out Amazon for its facial recognition technology and hit Facebook for failing its Black users.

The Google workers' efforts – previewed in a post on Medium – received support from at least one California legislator, Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat, who said she was "standing with Googlers for Ending Forced Arbitration and their public awareness campaign." Referencing the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, she said in a message posted to Twitter that forced arbitration "denies 60 million Americans access to basic rights."

Fox News reached out to Google for comment on this story.