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Coronavirus response begins to roll down to (some) hourly workers

Facebook, Google and Microsoft guarantee pay for missed work, but not all hourly tech workers know where they stand.

Facebook's Menlo Park, California campus

Facebook and other tech companies pledged to continue to pay hourly workers their normal wages, even as they advised their staff to work remotely.

Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

As Seattle and Silicon Valley companies make headlines with their scrambles to protect full-time employees from the COVID-19 outbreak, they find themselves under extreme pressure to extend worker protections and guaranteed pay to contract and hourly workers.

On Friday, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Amazon responded, joining Microsoft in committing to pay hourly workers their normal wages, even though moves to get full-timers to work from home have reduced the need for services like food preparation, CNBC reported. Legislators are getting involved, too, telling gig-work company CEOs to do more for contract workers who may be at heightened risk of exposure to the coronavirus when delivering groceries or meals.

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"I strongly urge that you attempt to address the potential financial hardship for your workers if they are sick or have to self-quarantine during this time," U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, wrote in a series of letters to the CEOs of Uber, Postmates, Lyft, Instacart, Grubhub and DoorDash on Friday. "In order to limit the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that platform companies lead by example by committing that economic uncertainty will not be deterrents to their workers."

The pressure to address gig workers and tech companies' "shadow workforce" of contractors, vendors and temp workers — estimated at up to 50% of the workforce at companies including Google — comes amid a broader labor reckoning in Silicon Valley. In recent days, labor unions and affiliated groups in Silicon Valley and Washington state have issued public demands for companies to cover lost wages and ensure access to health care, for the government to allow gig workers immediate access to unemployment benefits, and to allow sick workers days off without retribution.

So far, large established tech companies have responded faster than their gig economy counterparts.

"We recognize the hardship that lost work can mean for hourly employees," Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Thursday. "As a result, we've decided that Microsoft will continue to pay all our vendor hourly service providers their regular pay during this period of reduced service needs."

One company that has remained quiet on any precautions it is taking for either office workers or its 15,000 factory workers in Silicon Valley: Tesla. And on Friday, CEO Elon Musk posted on Twitter, "The coronavirus panic is dumb."

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Workers at other companies told Protocol that messages have been slow to trickle down through webs of staffing firms and temp agencies that handle direct communication, pay and benefits for hourly workers at large tech firms.

"There's been no discussions like, 'Hey, this is a pandemic,'" said one hourly worker who helps test Google offshoot Waymo's self-driving cars in Arizona. The worker, who asked to remain anonymous to protect their job, said the staffing firm that employs them has not said whether it would pay workers beyond five allotted sick days per year. With most hourly workers' high-deductible health plans, costly testing or medical treatment is a daunting prospect for Waymo workers with starting pay around $20 an hour.

Contractors in Arizona were copied on two company-wide emails from Google leadership urging general precautions like hand-washing, the person said, but there has been no additional follow-up from hourly worker managers, many of whom are based in other states. But the lack of guidance on benefits, they said, is just one way hourly workers are siloed off from the rest of the company.

"It's been like this regardless of whether it's coronavirus or anything," the worker said. "Temp agencies, they just take their cut."

Such discrepancies in the treatment of full-time and hourly workers are a growing concern for activist employees of big tech companies. On Friday, the group Alphabet Workers Rising posted a petition calling on Google CEO Sundar Pichai to permanently require health benefits and paid sick leave for all hourly workers, ahead of the company's previous commitment to do so by 2022.

Bruce Hahne, a former Google technical project manager who resigned in February over ethical concerns and now runs Alphabet Workers Rising, said the COVID-19 response is one example of a broader divide. "There's definitely sort of a first-class, second-class citizenship," Hahne said of how companies communicate with full-time versus hourly workers.

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He noted that full-time employees have generous health benefits including kin care, allowing paid time off to care for sick relatives. Hahne recalled that, when he worked for Google, he would thank office co-workers for staying home or working remotely when sick, which isn't an option for workers who provide on-site services.

"We're all as healthy as the least-entitled worker among us," Hahne said. "Those germs don't care."

Protocol | Fintech

Jack Dorsey is so money: What Tidal and banking do for Square

Teaming up with Jay-Z's music streaming service may seem like a move done for flash, but it's ultimately all about the money (and Cash).

Jay-Z performs at the Tidal-X concert at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2017.

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images

It was a big week for Jack Dorsey, who started by turning heads in Wall Street, and then went Hollywood with an unexpected music-streaming deal.

Dorsey's payments company, Square, announced Monday that it now has an actual bank, Square Financial Services, which just got a charter approved. On Thursday, Dorsey announced Square was taking a majority stake in Tidal, the music-streaming service backed by Jay-Z, for $297 million.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Protocol | Policy

Far-right misinformation: Facebook's most engaging news

A new study shows that before and after the election, far-right misinformation pages drew more engagement than all other partisan news.

A new study finds that far right misinformation pulls in more engagement on Facebook than other types of partisan news.

Photo: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren't known for spreading misinformation.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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