Everyone has their breaking point. And when it comes it can be a small thing, an incident that usually wouldn’t matter.
Shannon Wait’s moment was when her Google-issued water bottle broke. The data centre she worked in was hot, so she asked for another one. However, she says the Google subcontractor refused to give her one.
That moment sparked a chain reaction that led to an announcement last week. Google signed a statement saying the company’s workers had the right to discuss pay and conditions with each other.
It might seem bizarre that even needed to be said.
But in actual fact it was the culmination of Shannon’s battle with the company.
Her story is one of management overreach, a story that shines a light on managerial practices that have become synonymous with Big Tech.
Shannon finished her history degree in 2018 and started working at a Google data centre in South Carolina the following February, earning $15 (£10.90) an hour.
“You’re fixing the servers, which includes swapping out hard drives, swapping motherboards, lifting heavy batteries, they’re like 30lb (13.6kg) each,” she says. “It’s really difficult work.”
Google’s offices are famed for being creative, alternative and fun – with table tennis tables, free snacks and music rooms. However, what Shannon describes sounds less idyllic.
“People aren’t playing games all day like you see in the movies… the data centre is completely different,” she says.
Shannon was a contractor at Google. That means that although she worked in a Google data centre, she was actually employed by a subcontractor called Modis, part of a group of companies owned by another firm, Adecco.
That complex arrangement has become increasingly common at Google. About half of the people who work for the company are reportedly employed as contractors.
It also makes working out who actually carries the can for managerial mistakes complex. But we’ll get to that later.
Shannon says when the pandemic hit, the work got harder. The minimum number of jobs per shift increased. But there was a sweetener.