Workers Are Walking Out to Get Employers' Attention

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek November 27, 2018
Workers Are Walking Out to Get Employers Attention

​A walkout earlier this month by 20,000 Google employees called the world's attention to changes workers wanted to see from their employer.

On Black Friday, Amazon employees planned demonstrations across Europe against what they call unfair working conditions, Fortune reported. And in September, a McDonald's worker and single mother led a group of fast-food workers protesting sexual harassment.

Employees are taking to the streets and social media to get their employers' attention.

"The issues that contributed to the walkout at Google—the company's controversial work with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence, its apparent willingness to build a censored search engine for China and above all its handling of sexual harassment accusations against senior managers," The New York Times reported, "proved too large for any worker to confront alone, even if that worker made mid-six figures. They required a form of solidarity that would be recognizable to the most militant 20th-century labor organizers."

SHRM Online has collected articles from its archives and other media outlets on recent employee activism. 

Recent Google Walkouts Inspired One Employee to Make A Workplace Complaint Public—and It Worked

After thousands of Google employees around the world staged massive walkouts Nov. 1 to protest how the company handled the departure of executives accused of sexual misconduct, one employee was inspired to go public with her complaints about special accommodations for employees with disabilities.
Company policy appeared to require employees with disabilities to provide medical documentation before Google managers would discuss accommodation. After Cathy Fitzpatrick went public with her complaint, the company softened its language about the process.

She said the company's change shows that speaking out about an issue can make a difference, and she encourages other employees to do so.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement] 

Google Walkout Offers a Playbook for Successful Corporate Protests

Google holds itself to a high standard. Googlers knew this and staged their walkout partly in hopes that it would inspire other workers to hold their employers similarly accountable.

(The Verge

Viewpoint: Salesforce Employees Objected to Its Immigration Work. CEO Marc Benioff's Response Was Brilliant

Activist employees want a say in how their employers treat employees, and they are willing to organize protests to make sure their voices are heard. Employees at Apple, Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have spoken up on a range of issues. Until recently, companies responded in one of two ways—ignore or give in. Benioff chose another direction. 


If Your Employees Aren't Speaking Up, Blame Company Culture

Companies benefit when employees speak up. When employees feel comfortable candidly voicing their opinions, suggestions, or concerns, organizations become better at handling threats as well as opportunities. But employees often remain silent with their opinions, concerns or ideas. There are generally two viewpoints on why.

(Harvard Business Review

What Google's Walkout Means for Workplaces Everywhere

The biggest potential impact of the Nov. 1 global walkout won't be on Google. It will be in providing precedent and a framework for change to the thousands of other companies globally where discrimination is still rife, pay gaps even more egregious and workers less able to articulate their experience. A deeper and much more important consequence will be if it becomes a blueprint for those who are oppressed and silenced by other, more sinister and more deeply ingrained toxic workplace cultures.

(Quartz at Work)


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