Silicon Valley's Shadow Workforce Rises Up

A recent CNBC article highlighted the growth of freelance workers at Silicon Valley startups – approximately 40,000 Bay Area workers today are freelancer contractors, working without benefits like healthcare, PTO, and 401(k) accounts.

This “shadow workforce” – contractors who hide in plain sight, working alongside full-time permanent employees, but often treated as second class citizens – is increasingly the norm in Silicon Valley.

If you’re looking for the “canary in the coal mine” about how pervasive this trend has become, this quote from the CNBC article sums it up nicely:

“This year (2018) at Google, contract workers outnumbered direct employees for the first time in the company's 20-year history.”

Noodle on that for a minute.

More than 50% of Google workers are not actual Google employees. And this is at Google, a company heavily populated with white collar workers!

That’s because white collar workers are the fastest growing portion of the contract “shadow” workforce.

As someone who lives the reality of a contractor worker daily (I currently have 5 simultaneous gigs), it’s no surprise that contractors throughout Silicon Valley are demanding equal and better treatment.

Just today, Google employees asked to not carry “Scarlet Letter” badges around that identify them as contractors, and to also receive better benefits and workplace protections.

I stand in solidarity with these workers.

A company cannot ethically or practically outsource its fiduciary responsibility to care for its most valued asset – its workers – by creating a two-tiered system of workers. Engaging a flexible workforce does not absolve a company of caring for, protecting, and training these workers.

As a community and country, we cannot outsource our moral obligation to care for our workers – it not only hurts every business that does this irresponsibly by creating continuity and operational risks, but it hurts corporate culture, workers’ families, and communities nationwide.

It’s time to rewrite the contract between employers and contractors. Join us at Turning Basin Labs if you’d like to have a voice in where and how you work, ownership in a business, and an ally helping you to find high-road employment.

Stephen Bediako