After major corporations including Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft announced plans to provide abortion-related travel benefits for full-time employees, workers across industries are fighting to make sure those benefits are provided to everyone and that the corporations take their investments out of the pockets of anti-abortion politicians.
On Aug. 18, the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), informally referred to as the Google Union, sent a petition to Google executives urging the company to change various company policies. The petition, which over 650 workers across Alphabet signed, calls on executives to ensure all abortion access benefits guaranteed to Google full-time employees are extended to its temporary, vendor, or contract workforce. The petition also calls on Google executives to stop donating to conservative and anti-abortion politicians through NetPAC, the company’s political action committee.
According to data from OpenSecrets, NetPAC donated $69,500 to Republican Senate candidates since last year, including donations of up to $9,000 to senators who confirmed one or more of former President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointees who voted to turn down Roe v. Wade.
“Google is such a large company that employs so many people, and they have a responsibility to send a clear, concise message to not only their employees, but also their customers on what stance they take,” said Emrys Adair, a retail associate at a Google contractor and a member of the AWU. “It’s really confusing when they are supplying this reproductive health care for their employees but in the same breath are donating money to causes that work directly against that.”
“Recently I read about Facebook handing over information that was used to arrest a user seeking abortion access, and it became clear that tech companies are not going far enough to protect workers and users in a post-Roe America,” said Bambi Okugawa, a data center technician at Google and member of AWU. “If tech companies, be it Facebook, Google, or Bing, truly want to be an ally to those looking to get an abortion, they need to refuse to share users’ information regarding abortion searches and do their due diligence to make sure false information that could make users unsafe isn’t circulating the site.”
Google executives who received the petition have not responded yet. A representative from Google responded to Prism’s request for comment with a list of required benefits for their extended workforce, which did not have any mention of abortion benefits. Google was one of at least a dozen companies that announced new benefits for full-time employees, including travel support for employees in abortion deserts who need to access care and health care coverage for any out-of-state abortion procedures. But the benefits were only offered to full-time employees hired by Google, leaving out over half of Alphabet’s workforce who are considered temporary, vendor, or contract workers.
Adair, who is based in Missouri, has been a temporary vendor contract worker for Google for two years now, was one of the workers who signed the petition. They said it has been apparent how unfair the treatment is between full-time employees and contract workers. In addition to fewer benefits, temporary, vendor, and contract workers also receive lower pay. Like Adair, they are more likely to live in a state where abortion is restricted, according to the Alphabet Union statement, and would benefit the most from Google’s abortion benefits.
“Google has the money and resources to ensure all their employees, contracted or not, have access to abortion,” said Alejandra Beatty, the Southwest chapter lead of AWU and a technical program manager at Verily, an Alphabet company. “They emailed us right after the ruling to affirm their support for their full-time employees getting abortions but did not address how contracted workers, who tend to have more marginalized identities, would be supported in trying to exercise their right to choose. Google can and should do better.”
To meet these demands, the petition calls on Alphabet to create a dedicated task force with 50% employee representation responsible for implementing changes across the company.
Workers outside of Google are also advocating for abortion protections. The largest nurses union, National Nurses United, released a statement in July calling for the U.S. Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have guaranteed national abortion rights.
The NewsGuild-CWA, which represents thousands of journalists and media workers, has also been organizing to protect their abortion rights in the workplace.
“Comprehensive, reliable, and affordable health care is a human right, and access to abortion is a crucial component of comprehensive health care,” leaders said in a statement.
Since then, workers have met to develop a bargaining approach and provide coverage for abortion care in collective bargaining agreements. Guild journalist members have also expressed concern about being censored by their workplace from publicly engaging on the issue of abortion since it is seen as a “partisan issue” in mainstream outlets. But the Guild ensures that the federal National Labor Relations Act gives most private-sector workers the right to unionize and take collective action, including protecting the right of workers to speak publicly about their working conditions.
At Starbucks, the abortion protections were first only offered to stores that were not unionized. Starbucks executives claimed they could not guarantee unions would want to negotiate the benefits into their contract. But union leaders like Alisha Humphrey knew it was another form of union-busting—weaponizing abortion rights against already vulnerable workers. Humphrey, a Starbucks Union leader and barista in Oklahoma City, where abortion has been illegal since May, was especially concerned about accessing abortion care and frustrated that her store, which unionized in July, would not be guaranteed the same protections as others.
“That was pretty disheartening to see. It was another union-busting tactic, but in this case, it was [people’s] health care,” said Humphrey. “So that was incredibly depressing. I personally don’t ever want to be pregnant, and it’s a huge fear to realize [that] if I do get pregnant, it will be illegal and extremely hard for me to access an abortion by having to go out of state and doing it in secrecy now.”
Starbucks has since updated their policy to note that while “it’s difficult to predict the outcome of negotiations,” they will “always bargain in good faith.”
“That’s not the PR that they want associated with them, even if that was probably their original intention,” Humphrey said. “I’ve even reached out to partner resources, which is like our HR line, and they couldn’t even tell me if [the benefits] were guaranteed at our store [or other] union stores or not. They just kept telling me that they hadn’t been advised on it.”
But even if Humphrey’s store negotiates for the benefits, she would not qualify. Only Starbucks workers who work an average of 20 hours a week per three-month period are eligible for health care benefits. Since workers are not always guaranteed 20 scheduled hours, their ability to access care is left in the hands of management. Humphrey hopes that Starbucks will apply the benefit to all workers, not just those covered by the restrictive health insurance plan, and that the benefits will be written in a contract.
“Once Roe stops being in the news and cared about, there’s no promises that these benefits will stay,” Humphrey said. “So getting [the benefits] actually written in a contract that protects us would be the most ideal way to ensure the protections stay. COVID benefits were great in the beginning, but they slowly rolled away, and we’re left with little-to-no protections now.”
Other unions including the AFT Academics, Association of Flight Attendants, American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, and Actor’s Equity Assocation have all condemned the SCOTUS decision and urge employers to protect abortion rights, as well as promising to vote for leaders who will work to protect those rights.
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