About half of Google’s workers are contractors who don’t receive the same benefits as direct employees – “Every day, tens of thousands of people stream into Google offices wearing red name badges. They eat in Google’s cafeterias, ride its commuter shuttles and work alongside its celebrated geeks. But they can’t access all of the company’s celebrated perks. They aren’t entitled to stock and can’t enter certain offices. Many don’t have health insurance. Before each weekly Google all-hands meeting, trays of hors d’oeuvres and, sometimes, kegs of beer are carted into an auditorium and satellite offices around the globe for employees, who wear white badges. Those without white badges are asked to return to their desks. Google’s Alphabet Inc. employs hordes of these red-badged contract workers in addition to its full-fledged staff. They serve meals and clean offices. They write code, handle sales calls, recruit staff, screen YouTube videos, test self-driving cars and even manage entire teams – a sea of skilled laborers that fuel the $795 billion company but reap few of the benefits and opportunities available to direct employees. Earlier this year, those contractors outnumbered direct employees for the first time in the company’s twenty-year history, according to a person who viewed the numbers on an internal company database. It’s unclear if that is still the case. Alphabet reported 89,058 direct employees at the end of the second quarter. The company declined to comment on the number of contract workers.
Other companies, such as Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc., some of the most cash-rich public companies, also rely on a steady influx of contractors. Investors watch employee headcount closely at these tech powerhouses, expecting that they keep posting impressive gains by maintaining skinnier workforces than older corporate titans. Hiring contractors keeps the official headcount low, and frees up millions of dollars to retain superstars in fields like artificial intelligence. The result is an invisible workforce, off the company payrolls, that does the grunt work for the Silicon Valley giants with few of the rewards. “Many of these workers don’t have a voice on the job. They don’t necessarily get the benefits that many of us think about when working at a big, glitzy tech company,” said Maria Noel Fernandez, campaign director for Silicon Valley Rising, a union-backed group based in San Jose, California that advocates on labor and housing issues. “And they’re not really part of this wealth…”