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Google employees sign manifest against extended vaccination mandate

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Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google

Anindito Mukherjee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hundreds of Google employees have signed and circulated a manifesto against the company’s vaccination mandate, which is the latest leadership challenge as it hits critical deadlines for employees to return to the offices in person.

The Biden government has ordered U.S. companies with 100 or more employees to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid-19 by Jan. 4. In response, Google has asked its 150,000+ employees to upload their vaccination status to its internal directory systems by December 3rd, regardless of whether they enter the office or not, according to internal documents that CNBC has reviewed. The company has also stated that all employees who work directly or indirectly on government contracts must be vaccinated – even if they work from home.

“Vaccines are key to our ability to return everyone to office safely and to minimize the spread of Covid-19 in our communities,” wrote Chris Rackow, Google VP of Security, in an email sent in late October became.

Rackow said the company was already implementing the requirements, so the changes to Biden’s Executive Order were “minimal”. In his email, employees were given a November 12 deadline to request exemptions based on reasons such as religious beliefs or medical conditions, and said cases would be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The manifest within Google, signed by at least 600 Google employees, calls on corporate leaders to withdraw the vaccine mandate and create a new one that “includes all Google employees,” arguing that the leadership’s decision has an over-the-top impact on American companies will have. It also urges employees to “fundamentally oppose the mandate” and urges employees not to let the policy change their decision if they have already decided not to receive the Covid-19 injection.

The manifest comes as most of Google employees are approaching a deadline three days a week starting Jan. 10 to return to physical offices. The company’s particularly frank employees discussed everything from government contracts to food changes in the canteen.

A Google spokesman said the company was behind its policies. “As we have explained to all of our employees and the author of this document, our vaccination regulations are one of the most important ways to keep our employees safe and our services up and running. We stand firmly behind our vaccination policy. “

The mandate dilemma

Vaccinations are a dilemma not just for Google, but for businesses in America in general. The Covid-19 virus has contributed to 772,570 deaths in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins. Despite proven effectiveness in providing high levels of protection from hospitalizations and deaths, the country is struggling to convince millions of people to get their first dose as more than 60 million Americans remain unvaccinated.

In July, CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company would mandate vaccinations for those who return to the offices. In October, Pichai said the offices in the San Francisco Bay Area near headquarters were up to 30% occupied, while in New York nearly half of its employees were returning. He added at the time that employees who do not wish to be vaccinated can still work remotely.

The company has taken further steps to convince employees to also get vaccinated. According to the manifesto, Joe Kava, Vice President of Data Centers at Google, announced a bonus of US $ 5,000 for vaccination incentives for employees of US data centers.

In an email quoted in the Manifesto and viewed by CNBC, Chris Rackow, VP of Global Security at Google, said it was because of the company’s collaboration with the federal government that “today includes products and services that include ads, cloud maps, workspace and more include”. Employees who work directly or indirectly on government contracts need vaccinations – even if they work from home. Frequent tests are “not a valid alternative,” he added.

The authors of the manifesto vehemently disagree.

“I believe Sundar’s vaccination mandate is deeply flawed,” the manifesto reads, calling management “compulsory” and “the opposite of inclusion”.

In a subtitle entitled “Respect the User”, the authors write that the mandate “to publicly exclude unvaccinated Google employees from the office and possibly make a private decision embarrassing, since it would be difficult for the Google employee not to betray.” why he cannot return “.

The author also argues that the mandate violates the company’s principles of inclusivity.

“Such Google employees may never be comfortable expressing their true views on corporate health policies and other unrelated sensitive issues. This creates a silent perspective and exacerbates the internal ideological ‘echo chamber’, both inside and outside has been watched by Google for years. “

The manifesto also denies Google recording employee vaccination status.

“I don’t think Google should be privy to the health and medical history of Google employees, and vaccination status is no exception.” Google has asked employees to upload their vaccination records to the Google Environmental Health and Safety team, even though they’ve already uploaded it to One Medical, one of Google’s health care providers, according to internal documentation.

The author then attempts to argue that the vaccine mandate could be the beginning of a slippery descent that paves the way for other intrusive measures – a common reasoning among people who oppose the mandates.

“It normalizes the compulsory medical intervention not only for the Covid-19 vaccination, but also for future vaccines and possibly even non-vaccine interventions. Because of its presence as an industry leader, Google’s mandate will influence companies around the world to view these as acceptable tradeoffs. “

The group raised those concerns in an open letter to Karen DeSalvo, Google’s chief health officer, the document says.

In Google’s most recent all-hands meeting, called TGIF, some employees tried to draw more attention to the vaccine issue by getting other employees to “vote” other issues on an internal system called Dory, according to an internal email viewed by CNBC -Chain. The goal was to make sure their questions received enough votes to qualify for leaders to answer them.

Google Health Ambitions

The push back against vaccine mandates poses a new challenge for the leadership of Google at a time when it is trying to target the healthcare industry with its growing business ambitions – especially for its cloud entity.

In August, Google disbanded its health unit as a formalized business unit for the health sector, and Dr. David Feinberg, who headed the search giant’s health department for the past two years, left the company. Nonetheless, Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian routinely mentioned the health sector as a focus area, and DeSalvo, an ex-Obama administrator whom Google hired as its first health chief in 2019, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” last month that the tech giant was ” still “entirely in the interests of health.”

The company has tried to capitalize on the wider fight against Covid in a number of ways. In the first half of 2021, the company spent nearly $ 30 million on home Covid testing for Cue Health employees, which went public in September with a valuation of $ 3 billion. Shortly afterwards, the company announced a separate partnership with Google’s cloud unit to collect and analyze Covid-19 data in hopes of predicting future variations. Google has also partnered with Apple to develop opt-in contract tracking software in hopes of tracking Covid-19.

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