Google cracks down on contractors' access to skills training tools

Key Points
  • Google is cracking down on contractors' access to skills training such as LinkedIn Learning services, which has been available since at least 2016.
  • Workers will now need to submit a formal request if their jobs depend on it, otherwise they'll have to purchase it on their own.
  • It comes as the company faces backlash from its temporary workforce, which has claimed it is treated vastly different from full-time employees.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during signing ceremony committing Google to help expand information technology education at El Centro College in Dallas, Texas, October 3, 2019.
Brandon Wade | Reuters

Google contract workers say the company this week cracked down on their access to skills learning tools, causing consternation among workers who previously received free courses.

Several workers said they were told over the last week that their access to learning resources through LinkedIn Learning were no longer valid, as it is reserved for full-time employees and interns, according to materials viewed by CNBC.

The crackdown comes as the company faces pressure from contract employees who have petitioned for better treatment amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Commonly referred to as TVCs  (temporary, vendors and contractors), these workers make up at least half of the company's 300,000-person workforce, but are often excluded from company-wide events and offerings.

Multiple TVCs said that management has sent emails encouraging workers to take advantage of learning tools since the company ordered all employees to work from home in mid-March. Many TVCs had freely accessed the training tools since at least 2016 without any pushback, according to workers and documents. That includes Google contract employee Bruce Bookman, who spoke to CNBC after writing a blog post Tuesday criticizing the change. 

But this week, Google cracked down on access, according to documents viewed by CNBC.

"We noticed that you have a LinkedIn Learning account using your Google credentials," read an email from Kris Mortimer, a program manager for Google's vendor operations who notified TVCs of the change on Wednesday. "Because this resource isn't needed to do your job and is considered a softskill/professional development training, it's only available to full-time employees and interns," she said. "We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause."

"Despite all we do for the company for less pay than full-time employees, we see management rejiggering what contractors can access," Bookman told CNBC in an interview. "It's heartless to do this during a global pandemic."

Mortimer's note goes on to say that if workers need the learning tools to complete their job, they have to submit a formal request or purchase a consumer license themselves.

"It places a high burden on managers and TVCs because what was once open must now be repeatedly requested by every individual," Bookman wrote. "This creates a bottleneck nightmare. Requests can get buried and end up at the bottom of a manager's pile very easily."

Some workers expressed dismay at the crackdown. "This is easily one of the benefits I'd like most," one worker said on an email thread. "RIP," wrote another in a separate thread.

"It's interesting they are actively going through the accounts," another wrote.

Google didn't respond to requests for comment on the changes.

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