I was a pieceworker for Google

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Working in a call center is pure hell. I was hired by a company that manages the 24/7 call center that contracts tech support for Google, the developer of the Android operating system that runs the smart phone you may have in your pocket. Eight months later, I was fired. This experience has given me much greater respect for my fellow workers, and a deepened disgust at the harsh, surveillance-driven environment we endured together. I’m writing this anonymously because I’m looking for another job.

It was obvious from the start that management distrusted its workforce. From the time I punched the clock and logged into the phone system, every action was monitored minutely. My computer screen was visible to the supervisors at all times. They recorded and evaluated my calls and tracked open time between calls. They marked the precise minute I left and returned from breaks and lunch, monitored how long I had a customer on hold. Cameras in the lunch area and rest room hall watched every move. No cell phones, paper or pens were allowed at your desk. All this surveillance was on computer so it could be observed and not removed from the site. “Big Brother” on steroids is one way to put it. Makes you wonder if the supervisors were in training for a NSA job.

Most of my shift I answered queries from customers wanting help primarily with their Android phones, such as a rapidly draining battery, a forgotten password, or a
cracked screen.

Almost all hardware problems were unfixable, and management knew this but would never admit it. So I couldn’t help customers unless they had warranty coverage. But supervisors coached me to sound more confident, and said it was my tone that was the problem, not the company’s troubleshooting steps.

While talking with customers, we were trained to be “Googly” (honestly, I’m not kidding), or to come off hip, while being both casual and professional. After all, Google is a hugely successful, billion-dollar corporation. It represents a way of life that’s the final word in cool. I should feel hella lucky to be an agent for this popular company, and customers should feel privileged to be on the fringes of the in-crowd.

This promoted the approach of “We’ll fix your device, but if it doesn’t work it’s your fault. You’re ignorant and unskilled with this technology. You’re like some little old lady who doesn’t know how to change the wallpaper on her phone.” Obviously, Google’s attitude toward callers was as degrading as it was toward us doing the work!

Calls slammed in one right after the other. And taking time to write up notes, research harder problems, and compose emails for replacement phones — that is, being in “after call” for more than 2-3 minutes — was suspect. Catching your breath after a particularly difficult call was not allowed. “Bing” went my headset, alerting me that another caller was on the line. I mustered up the phony smile in my voice and began the opening patter, still reeling from the abusive caller I just disconnected.

We were tethered to our desks by our headsets. In the eight months I worked there I never once took an unscheduled bathroom break. Good thing I wasn’t taking diuretics.

Google’s 2015 first quarter revenue was $17.3 billion, but I had the stingy base pay of $14/hr. We were eligible for a bonus up to $4 per hour, but this was withheld if we were not adhering to schedule, on probation, or missing other qualifications like attendance. If the customer chose to give the agent a high score, we received an additional $1.

Two giant corporations completely controlled my life, then dumped me and over a hundred other agents from our jobs in less than two years of working. I was marched to the conference room, supervisors stationed on my left and right, told I was terminated, escorted off the floor and out the door, the lock clicking solidly behind me. It’s my suspicion that the company qualifies for federal tax deductions on each new worker it hires.

Low salaries, constant monitoring, and random layoffs add up to high anxiety. The best defense is starting a union, but rigged conditions and rapid turnover makes that next to impossible.

People desperate for work are willing to take any soul-sucking job they can land just to survive. Right now we’re easily replaced as individual cogs on a wheel. But even the biggest goliath will eventually fall. Someday these high tech bullies will be toppled by working-class superheroes coming together to control wages and develop our own saner working conditions. Let the games begin.

Also see other labor-related stories in this issue:

• Labor Weather Report

• The unstoppable fight for $15

• Closing the gender pay gap: what will it take?

• “Right to work” legislation threatens all unions

• Adjunct professors: academia’s overstressed, underpaid labor force

To listen to this and other articles from this issue, click here.

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