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Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky announced Thursday that the company was terminating contingent worker contracts early, according to a worker who spoke with Protocol.

Photo: Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times
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Airbnb lays off contractors and postpones summer internships

"It was the most tone deaf, bizarre Q&A format I've ever seen."

During his weekly Q&A over video on Thursday, Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky announced that the company was terminating contingent worker contracts early and postponing summer internships and undergrad hiring until 2021, according to a worker who was in the meeting.

"It was the most tone-deaf, bizarre Q&A format I've ever seen," said the worker, who found out on the call that they were being laid off. "No 'thank you' to the contingent workers, or 'we hope to bring you back.' Then he went into the Q&A portion."

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After the meeting, managers received an email containing more details from Beth Axelrod, Airbnb's VP of employee experience, according to the worker who spoke with Protocol on the condition of anonymity and shared the text of the email.

"As you may have heard during CEO Q&A, we've had to make the very difficult decision to significantly reduce the size of our contingent workforce," the email, signed "Beth," reads. "I'm sure the agency temps on your teams will have questions, as will you. We are working through the details as quickly as we can, internally and with our partner agencies that employ our contingent workers." She promised more information next week to help managers support their contingent workers "through this transition."

But, Axelrod added: "This is what I can share: We are ending Agency Temp contracts early." She said contract workers would be hearing directly from the third-party agencies that employ them within two weeks, and that no one being let go would receive less than two weeks' pay after receiving notice. "The expectation is that there will only be a small number of exceptions based on critical business needs. We don't have information on those exceptions yet, but they will be communicated over the next week."

A spokesperson for Airbnb declined to answer any questions, saying, "We don't have a comment to share on the topic."

In the hours after the 4 p.m. PDT meeting, Airbnb contractors shared on LinkedIn the news that they had just been let go. "Reaching out to my network for some help! Today I learned that I will be laid off from Airbnb due to COVID-19. I'm feeling anxious and worried about what comes next," wrote project manager Emilee Hannum.

The company's class of summer interns shared similar news. "I just found out my 2020 summer internship at Airbnb was canceled due to COVID-19 and its acute impact on the travel industry," wrote one computer science major at Stanford. Protocol found at least five posts on LinkedIn from would-be Airbnb interns saying on Thursday that their internships had been canceled.


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It's not clear how many contingent employees Airbnb has. According to Glassdoor, Airbnb has somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 people in its workforce, and last year The New York Times reported it had around 6,000 full-time staff employees.

In the last two weeks, Airbnb has raised $2 billion in a series of debt and equity deals to support the company as the floor has fallen out of the travel industry. At the Q&A, Chesky also said he and his co-founders wouldn't be taking salaries this year. It has also been reported that the company's top executives are taking 50% pay cuts, and that most of Airbnb's $800 million marketing budget will be paused.

"We need to make tough trade-offs and operate with more discipline than we ever have before so Airbnb can be a much stronger company on the other side of this crisis," Axelrod wrote.

Correction April 17, 2020: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the meeting was held over Zoom; it was held over another video system.

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