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Microsoft Employees Write Letter Supporting Tech Workers Protest in China

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  • Tech workers in China are protesting their working conditions through a GitHub project called 996.ICU, referring to 996 schedules which is a concept that tech employees should work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.
  • Some Chinese browsers have censored the GitHub project prompting employees of Microsoft, which owns GitHub, to send a letter.
  • In the letter, the Microsoft employees showed their support for the project and urged the company not to cave to pressure and censor it on their browser, Bing.

GitHub Protest

Employees of the tech giant Mircosoft have circulated an open letter petition supporting tech workers in China who are protesting abusive working conditions. The letter urges the company to protect the workers from censorship.

Over the last month, hundreds of thousands of tech workers in China have started an online protest against unfair working conditions. Showing any form of dissent in China is incredibly difficult, especially online.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are blocked in China, and other social media platforms are heavily censored. In order to even find a space where tech workers could organize, they had to get creative.

That’s where the platform GitHub comes in. GitHub, which is owned by Microsoft, is the world’s biggest open-source website that allows programmers to work together on code. The Chinese tech workers created what’s called a “repository” on GitHub, which is essentially a project where any number of people can collaborate together.

Instead of writing code, they shared thousands of posts protesting “996” schedules, which is the concept that tech workers should work 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. That might sound extreme, but the 996 philosophy has become the industry standard in China.

The workers called the project “996.ICU,” referring to an apparent joke that working a 996 schedule will send you to the intensive care unit. The point of the project is to demand better working conditions and demonstrate against 996 schedules, which the workers say are illegal under Chinese labor laws.

“This is not a political movement. We firmly uphold the labor law and request employers to respect the legitimate rights and interests of their employees,” the description for the project reads.

The repository includes evidence of bad working conditions, legal resources for workers, and petitions to Chinese government ministries. It also has a “blacklist” of more than 150 companies that workers say have inhumane working conditions. This includes huge tech firms like Huawei, Alibaba, and ByteDance, which created TikTok.

Just a few weeks after it was started, 996.ICU received more than 200,000 “stars,” making it one of the most popular GitHub repositories ever.

Microsoft Letter

The letter from Microsoft supporting the GitHub project was not unpromoted. Unsurprisingly, some Chinese browsers have started to block access to 996.ICU.

Now, Microsoft employees are concerned that their company will do the same. The branch of Microsoft that operates in China censors search results on its search engine, Bing, in order to comply with Chinese laws.

While Microsoft cannot stop other browsers from censoring the project, they have the power to continue to allow people to access it through Bing. That is exactly what the letter urges Microsoft to do.

“In response to these events, we, the workers of Microsoft and GitHub, support the 996.ICU movement and stand in solidarity with tech workers in China,” Microsoft employees wrote in the letter. “We know this is a problem that crosses national borders. These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole.”

“We encourage Microsoft and GitHub to keep the 996.ICU GitHub repository uncensored and available to everyone,” the letter concluded.

The letter currently has been signed by at least 100 different tech workers and will be updated by the administrators as more people sign it.

It is not just Microsoft workers that have signed on. The letter says that the employees launched the petition publicly at the same time that they announced it within Microsoft. As a result, employees at several different tech firms all over the world have signed it, including heavy hitters like Google and Facebook.

What Next?

With the petition gaining traction, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft and China respond.

There have been a number of recent examples of similar petitions and letters actually having an impact on tech company policies. Just last year, Google employees circulated a letter demanding that the company shut down a censored search engine for China that Google was secretly working on. Some software engineers even quit their jobs in protest.

Google’s CEO has since said they will hold off on launching the search product just yet.

However, on the other side, there are examples of employee protests that have been less successful. In November, Google employees staged a walk-off to protest an executive who had been fired for sexual harassment and received a $90 million severance package. Those employees are now reporting that they are experiencing internal backlash and even demotion, despite the fact that the company agreed to new policies regarding sexual harassment and diversity.

In China, that kind of backlash has serious implications. One 996 programmer in China anonymously told NPR that he was “scared to death” of political retribution, continuing:

“I am not optimistic about our long-term prospects,” the anonymous programmer said, “I think the Chinese Communist Party will see us as terrorists and use the most modern weaponry to make us obey.”

Additionally, according to NPR, more than 30 students, activists, and factory workers are have been detained since last summer for trying to unionize factory workers.

The potential backlash against GitHub is especially concerning. The site has been known for being an important and influential space for programmers to create and share anti-censorship software tools in the country, which makes it a perceived threat.

This most recent project is not even the first time GitHub has been targetted in China. GitHub was briefly blocked in the country back in 2013. In 2015, GitHub was taken offline by a cyber attack that servers eventually traced back to a Chinese state-owned telecom company. In general, access to certain pages and projects have been selectively censored.

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (The Guardian) (The Verge)

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Google Is Banning “Sugar Dating” Apps as Part of New Sexual Content Restrictions

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The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms.


Sugar Dating Crackdown

Google has announced a series of policy changes to its Android Play Store that include a ban on sugar dating apps starting September 1.

The company’s Play Store policies already prohibit apps that promote “services that may be interpreted as providing sexual acts in exchange for compensation.”

Now, it has updated its wording to specifically include “compensated dating or sexual arrangements where one participant is expected or implied to provide money, gifts or financial support to another participant (‘sugar dating’).”

The change essentially targets apps like Elite Millionaire Singles, SeekingArrangements, Spoil, and tons of other sugar dating platforms currently available for download.

Search results for “Sugar Daddy” on Google’s Play Store

What Prompted the Change?

The company didn’t explain why it’s going after sugar dating apps, but some reports have noted that the move comes amid crackdowns of online sex work following the introduction of the FOSTA-SESTA legislation in 2018, which was meant to curb sex trafficking.

That’s because FOSTA-SESTA created an exception to Section 230 that means website publishers can be held liable if third parties are found to be promoting prostitution, including consensual sex work, on their platforms.

It’s worth noting that just because the apps will no longer be available on the Play Store doesn’t mean the sugar dating platforms themselves are going anywhere. Sugar daters will still be able to access them through their web browsers, or they can just sideload their apps from other places.

Still, the change is likely going to make the use of these sites a little less convenient.

See what others are saying: (The Verge)(Engadget)(Tech Times)

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Activision Blizzard CEO Apologizes for “Tone Deaf” Response to Harassment Suit, Unsatisfied Employees Stage Walkout

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Organizers of a Wednesday walkout say they “will not return to silence” and “will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”


CEO Apologizes

After a week of growing criticism against its workplace culture, the CEO of Activision Blizzard has finally apologized for how the company first responded to allegations of sexual harassment and assault in its offices.

“Our initial responses to the issues we face together, and to your concerns, were, quite frankly, tone deaf,” CEO Bobby Kotick said Tuesday in a letter to employees. “It is imperative that we acknowledge all perspectives and experiences and respect the feelings of those who have been mistreated in any way. I am sorry that we did not provide the right empathy and understanding.” 

In its initial response, Activision Blizzard denounced the disturbing allegations brought forth in a lawsuit by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) as “irresponsible.” The company added that it came from “unaccountable State bureaucrats that are driving many of the State’s best businesses out of California.”

But many current and former employees soon disputed that claim. In fact, at the time, more than 2,500 had signed their name to an open letter condemning the company for its response, which they described as “abhorrent and insulting” to survivors. 

In his letter, Kotick promised employees that Blizzard will take “swift action to be the compassionate, caring company you came to work for.”

As part of a series of new policies, he said the company will now offer additional employee support and listening sessions, as well as potential personnel changes to leadership.

“Anyone found to have impeded the integrity of our processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated,” he added.

Kotick also said Blizzard will add “compliance resources” to ensure that leadership is adhering to diverse hiring directives.

Lastly, he promised that the company will remove “inappropriate” in-game content. In a similar statement on Tuesday, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team said it’s actively working to remove “references that are not appropriate for our world,” though it didn’t specify what those references were. 

It now appears that many of the references being removed are of the game’s former Senior Creative Director, Alex Afrasiabi, who is cited in the lawsuit as someone who hit on and made unwanted advances at female employees. Moreover, the suit also directly accuses him of groping one woman.

“Afrasiabi was so known to engage in harassment of females that his suite” during company events “was nicknamed the “[Cosby] Suite” after alleged rapist Bill [Cosby],” the suit claims. 

Blizzard Walkout

Organizers of a company-wide employee walkout, which was announced Tuesday and occurred Wednesday, still argue that Kotick’s latest message doesn’t address their larger concerns.

Among those are “the end of forced arbitration for all employees,” “worker participation in oversight of hiring and promotion policies,” “the need for greater pay transparency to ensure equality,” and “employee selection of a third party to audit HR and other company processes.”

“We will not return to silence; we will not be placated by the same processes that led us to this point.”

Ahead of the walkout, Blizzard reportedly encouraged its own employees to attend, saying those workers would face no repercussions and “can have paid time off” during the demonstration, according to The Verge. 

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Polygon) (CNBC)

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Frito-Lay Workers End Nearly Three-Week Strike After Securing Higher Wages and a Guaranteed Day Off

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Employees also negotiated an end to “suicide shifts,” which are two 12-hour shifts that are only eight hours apart. 


Strike Ends

Hundreds of Frito-Lay workers in Kansas have put an end to their nearly three-week strike over alleged mandatory overtime assignments that resulted in extremely long work weeks and so-called “suicide shifts.”

The term “suicide shift” refers to working two 12-hour shifts with only eight hours of rest in between. That can be especially hard on employees who claim to have worked up to 84 hours in a single week. For context, that’s 12 hours a day without a single day off. 

One of the reasons workers have found themselves taking on more hours and days at plants is because consumer snacking has increased during the pandemic — so much so that Frito Lay’s recent net growth has exceeded every single one of its targets. That’s why at one point, the striking workers asked consumers to boycott Frito-Lay products in a show of solidarity.

The strikes began July 5 and concluded on July 23 following an agreement reached by union leaders and PepsiCo., Frito-Lay’s parent company. Under that deal, all employees will see a 4% wage increase over the next two years. They’ll also be guaranteed at least one day off a week, and the company will no longer schedule workers with only eight hours off between shifts. 

Following the agreement, Anthony Shelton, the president of the union representing the workers, said that they’ve “shown the world that union working people can stand up against the largest food companies in the world and claim victory for themselves, their families and their communities.”

“We believe our approach to resolving this strike demonstrates how we listen to our employees, and when concerns are raised, they are taken seriously and addressed,” Frito-Lay said in a statement. “Looking ahead, we look forward to continuing to build on what we have accomplished together based on mutual trust and respect.”

The Long, Bitter Road to an Agreement

When the workers went on strike, they lobbed several very disturbing accusations against Frito-Lay. 

In fact, the workers were pushed so hard that according to one employee who wrote in the Topeka Capital-Journal, “When a co-worker collapsed and died, you had us move the body and put in another co-worker to keep the line going.”

While Frito-Lay dismissed this account as “entirely false,” other employees continued to protest conditions in the plants. Many even argued the 90-degree temperatures they had to stand in to protest outside were preferable to the 100-degree-plus temperatures and smokey conditions in the factories. 

During the strikes, PepsiCo. actively disputed that its employees are overworked, describing their claims as “grossly exaggerated” and saying, “Our records indicate 19 employees worked 84 hours in a given work week in 2021, with 16 of those as a result of employees volunteering for overtime and only 3 being required to work.” 

It also said an initial concession more than met the striking employees’ terms, but the union backing those workers disagreed, and further negotiations were held until the final deal was reached. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)

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