Google Decides to “Do Evil” to its Workers

New Orleans      Remember back in the old days, which might have only been a few years ago, but certainly seems so twentieth century now, when it seemed OK that Google was the go-to search engine for most everyone, the mail service for billions, map reader for the masses, and so much more?  Sure, you do.  There motto then was “do no evil.”  What a hoot!  That was so before the principals were gazillionaires and could hide their libertarianism that values all things individual over anything collective from governments down to the regular folks on the street.

With a workforce of 100,000 direct employees around the world and 100,000 or more contractors, this “do no evil” thing is officially over when it comes to their own folks much less the rest of us.  Time to tighten the screws!  Reports are out now that among their many contracts their human relations folks have hired IRI Consultants, a notorious union buster, to give them advice on how and where to put their boot on their employees’ necks.   I know IRI well enough.  They were a household word for SEIU organizers in the twenty-five years, Local 100 was affiliated there, just as SEIU is a household word for them on their websites as they tout efforts to thwart the Service Employees hospital organizing drives.  One of the few listservs I still get is a regular alert and spreadsheet on “Union Busters,” since they are required to file with reports on their activity though most, like IRI Consultants, do their dirty work in secret.

The dissembling by Google over IRI’s work for them is a piece of the same cloth, though many of their recent actions, as reported by their workers, smell like them.  Google has been moving to close down its more open culture of employee outlets for wide ranging comments.  The company now wants to know about any meeting of 100 or more workers or requests for ten or more rooms.  Weekly all-hands meetings are now monthly and only vetted topics allowed.

Google is reacting to a growing feistiness by its workforce.  A relatively small walkout freaked them out.  A petition against Google contracting with the US Customs and Border Protection agency was a pimple on management’s butt.  There is no real threat of a union organizing drive across the company, but this whole legally protected concerted activity thing under US labor law is chafing them as well.

The attempts by the National Labor Relations Board to now curtail what they are willing to protect as concerted activity on company email servers is undoubtedly a flashing neon light for Google and its buster-buddies to try to suffocate their workers communicating with each other about Google, their work, and their grievances.  Recently, the EEOC has partially kept the door open to protect workers when they are communicating collectively by email about sexual harassment, but the retreat of the NLRB is significant.  California labor law may protect some Google workers based around headquarters, but all of the signs are bad as the company begins cracking down harder.

“Do no evil” was a good early recruitment tool for Google and pretty good marketing for the rest of us, but the new Google practices are less about changing or doing good in the world and more about holding onto every penny along the way.  “Do evil” or whatever it takes to your workers is standard operating procedure for mega-companies, so put Google on that list as the same as the rest and far from the best.

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Community Reinvestment Still Matters, Why Gut it More?

New Orleans       Newsday, the big Long Island, New York newspaper, reported on a three-year investigation of real estate practices in this suburb that is well-known as one of the whitest suburbs in America.   Using a classic tactic to determine such racial discrimination, they sent out 100 teams of black and white testers in order to compare how racial differences might have led to disparate advice and steering into or away from white neighborhoods.  They found that real estate agents treated people of color unequally 40% of the time compared with white people.  In what may have seemed a throwaway comment, Newsday thought that their investigation should have been unnecessary, as another paper commented, because the work should have been done by the government or nonprofits.  Hats off to Newsday for doing the work, but shock and awe that they did not realize that no one in government is really guarding against racial discrimination in real estate, and nonprofits are drastically underfunded by HUD in the current administration on the issues of fair housing.

Case in point is the steady drive to eviscerate the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) yet again, this time led by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.  Remember that the CRA since 1977 has been one of the few bulwarks against not only discrimination in housing lending based on race and ethnicity, but the only real incentive for banks to assure that they are investing and approving loans in lower income communities.

The Federal Reserve Bank is the overseer of CRA and its individual bank ratings.  The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is also a CRA player. For some spurious excuse, likely rooted in bad faith and worse politics, after years of meetings to find a path where all three agencies agreed, the OCC has broken ranks and is trying to move alone to rewrite CRA rules.  Nothing good will come of this.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the negotiations broke down over the critical issue of whether CRA activity should be measured by the number of loans made, advocated by the Federal Reserve, or the dollar amount of CRA lending in an area, which is the OCC’s position.  None of these regulators are heroes in this story, but the OCC’s position is especially suspect.  One can look at the way developers have manipulated CDBG funding in Detroit’s downtown census tracks or the way developers and rich investors are pulling trucks up for cash delivery to distort the enterprise zones, ostensibly for lower income areas, created in the Trump tax giveaway.  Dollars would presume real investment, even though not to the real CRA targets.

Additionally, OCC seems to want to use a metric that looked at lending ratios compared to bank deposits from families in lower income areas.  The last forty years have seen most banks shutter branches as part of their business model in our communities, while the number of payday lenders and check cashing outlets have exploded in lower income areas to fill the vacuum.  How could this be a realistic metric?

Hopefully, the OCC’s political game will run into some serious resistance.  In that sense we are lucky that the other agencies have not signed on.  The real problem, whether in Long Island or wherever you might live, is that discrimination of all kinds is still rife in low-and-moderate communities everywhere in the United States, and CRA is one of the few tools that still works, when it is allowed to do so.  We definitely ought to be doing some work to revise CRA, like forcing more financial institutions under its requirements and lassoing in all of the on-line, Quicken and Zillow types as well, but the OCC’s political play needs to be taken off the table ASAP.

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