Google employees fight company over ‘life or death’ abortion policies
Immediately after the Supreme Court released a decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, in June, a slew of large US corporations, like Meta and JPMorgan Chase, announced they would cover travel expenses for employees who request legal abortions outside their home countries.
Google has gone further. Having already extended its abortion coverage to include such trips, the company told employees it would allow them to ask to relocate without giving a reason.
More recently, after receiving questions from federal lawmakers, the company last month began rolling out a product update that will set default results on Google Maps and local locations for the search query “abortion clinics near me” to include only institutions that perform abortions.
The change will exclude from the default results institutions that do not offer the operation, such as pregnancy centers that often try to dissuade a woman from having an abortion.
Users who choose to manually expand results beyond those displayed will still be able to see institutions that do not offer abortions, a Google spokesperson said.
Additionally, Google Maps and local search results will include labels indicating whether or not an institution offers abortion, a Google spokesperson said.
Yet outspoken Google employees say the company hasn’t gone far enough in its response to Roe’s reversal, both in terms of product performance and employee treatment.
The Alphabet Workers Union, or AWU, an advocacy group of more than 1,000 employees, called on Google to toughen its approach to abortion issues or risk escalating pressure from employees. The AWU operates as a “minority union”, which means it lobbies the company through organizing workers, but does not formally represent workers in collective bargaining.
The standoff between workers and management at one of the world’s largest tech companies comes at the convergence of several burning issues: access to abortion, moderation of online content and growing employee activism in the workplace. amid a wave of nationwide unionization.
“With this new labor movement, workers feel it is their duty to have a say in what is happening,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. from the University of California at Santa Barbara. ABC News.
“Workers can get together and make demands of their company on any topic – it doesn’t have to be about wages or bread and butter,” he added.
Google should extend abortion-related health benefits to contract workers, who the AWU says make up about half of the company’s workforce, according to the group.
Additionally, AWU asked Google to remove pregnancy centers entirely from search results that appear after a query such as “abortion clinic near me,” rather than just setting the default search results in Google. Maps and local locations to exclude these groups. Under current policy, the app and site show pregnancy centers in an expanded set of search results.
Alejandra Beatty, a technical program manager who has worked at Alphabet for six years and leads the AWU’s Southwest chapter, applauded the steps the company has taken on abortion issues since the Dobbs decision, but said the company could always do more to protect users and employees.
“We’re excited to see progress,” she told ABC News. “But we recognize that there is still a lot to do.”
A Google spokesperson said the recent update prioritizing and labeling abortion clinics on Google Maps and in local search results is part of a larger effort to improve search results when a user is looking for a specific service, such as a particular brand of COVID vaccine or an electric vehicle. charging facility.
“We’re now rolling out an update that makes it easier for people to find places that offer the services they’ve been looking for, or expand their results to see more options,” a spokesperson said. society.
“We get confirmation that venues are providing a particular service in a number of ways, including regularly calling businesses directly and working with authoritative data sources. We went through our standard testing and evaluation process to confirm that these updates are more useful for people,” the spokesperson added.
Google did not respond to a request for comment on the AWU’s request to extend abortion-related health coverage to contract workers.
Beatty, the Alphabet employee and ALU member, said the group’s call for pregnancy centers to be removed from search results looking for abortion clinics is a matter of maintaining misinformation harmful off the platform.
“We think it’s important that search results don’t mislead users, so while additional tagging with services is certainly more helpful, it still leaves the fake clinic listed,” a- she declared.
“A good analogy would be the amount of misinformation that spread during the Covid-19 outbreak,” she added. “If websites had started popping up offering advice to those seeking vaccinations, they would have been taken down immediately.”
Google reserves a duty to provide accurate search results for high-stakes abortion research, said Joan Donovan, research director at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
“Google has become the go-to place for information related to life and death matters, and therefore Google has more than just a responsibility but a duty to ensure people get the right information about services. abortion every time in all Google products,” she told ABC News.
Donovan’s prescription for the company seemed to align with Google’s move toward default results that prioritize institutions that offer abortions.
“It’s very important that if someone is seeking an abortion, the best results are first and foremost about getting those services,” she said.
Beatty, the Google employee, said the AWU would step up its pressure on Google if the company does not provide contract workers with abortion-related health benefits and removes pregnancy centers from search results; although the group does not yet have specific plans.
“As more and more states pass incredibly restrictive laws, like Tennessee and Texas have done, we know we need to act,” she said.
The AWU sent out a petition in mid-August signed by hundreds of employees calling on Google to extend abortion-related healthcare benefits, including travel reimbursement, to contract employees.
As of the end of last month, the company had not responded, Beatty said. “It’s not that unusual,” she added. “There are a good number of petitions going on these days.”
The AWU will continue to advocate on issues related not only to working conditions but also to the performance of Google products, she said.
“As guardians of the ability to share information fairly and democratically, it is our duty to ensure that this continues,” she said.