From Apple to Google, tech workers say there's a cost to speaking out More and more tech workers are publicly criticizing their companies. But those who have spoken out say it's taken a toll on their careers, friendships and mental health.

Tech workers recount the cost of speaking out, as tensions rise inside companies

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1048038154/1048130334" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The tech industry is bringing down the hammer on its outspoken workers. Facebook has locked down internal message boards. Apple recently fired a worker who became a labor activist. Netflix terminated an employee accused of leaking documents.

NPR's Bobby Allyn looks at the human cost of speaking out in the tech industry.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Former Apple employee Janneke Parrish got a message on Slack last month from her manager.

JANNEKE PARRISH: I was told that I was under investigation. My devices were confiscated at that point.

ALLYN: There was a leak. Someone shared with the press a company meeting with CEO Tim Cook and an internal memo. Parrish says it wasn't her, but Apple had its suspicions, then acted.

PARRISH: I was told that I was being terminated for having deleted apps and files off my devices prior to turning them into the company.

ALLYN: Parrish says she was targeted because of her activism. She helped organize #AppleToo, a nod to the #MeToo movement. It was a push to share anonymous accounts of Apple workers who say they were mistreated for things like alleged harassment and unequal pay. Parrish says the organizing came after numerous attempts to raise these concerns with her bosses at Apple.

PARRISH: I absolutely believe that my #AppleToo involvement is at the heart of my termination.

ALLYN: Apple wouldn't comment on the incident, saying they thoroughly investigate all company concerns. Across the tech industry, standoffs are intensifying. After a Facebook whistleblower shared thousands of internal documents with regulators in the press, the company reportedly began locking down its internal message boards and trying to identify other leakers.

Netflix fired a trans employee whom the company said leaked confidential records. The ex-employee says that's false. But somehow, the public did learn how much Netflix paid to produce a Dave Chappelle special after some of his jokes offended transgender people. Netflix employees yesterday staged a walkout, chanting trans lives matter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Trans lives matter.

ALLYN: Chelsey Glasson is a former Google employee who left the company after blowing the whistle about what she saw as discrimination against pregnant employees. That was in 2019. And still, it's affecting her personal life and career.

CHELSEY GLASSON: That holding a big tech company accountable following misconduct, observed or experienced, is truly a marathon.

ALLYN: Glasson gave NPR a preview of a speech she's giving today to a small union at Google. Her message - speaking out in big tech comes with a cost - financial, mental and social.

GLASSON: So to suddenly be alienated and to not have people reach out, or to people - to have people not respond to my emails and my correspondence, that's really hard.

ALLYN: Glasson is now suing Google for discrimination. Google wouldn't discuss the case.

These companies have long prided themselves for encouraging dissenters within their ranks. But now, more of those dissenters are emboldened to speak publicly, and that's put the companies on the defense. Silicon Valley historian Margaret O'Mara says tech workers, like employees everywhere, are using the pandemic to question the meaning of work in their lives.

MARGARET O'MARA: But also, it's reflecting how enormous these companies have become. That is shifting the culture. There are more voices. There are more perspectives. There's less tolerance of just taking the executives at their word.

ALLYN: Apple, Google and Netflix, all recent NPR financial supporters, wouldn't make any of their officials available for an interview. Former Apple worker Parrish says tech workers are no longer willing to take a high salary and generous perks in exchange for their loyalty. Now they want more.

PARRISH: We want tech to be what it envisions itself to be. We want it to help forge that future. But the reality is that to forge the future, you have to take care of what's going on inside first.

ALLYN: And what's happening on the inside is increasingly becoming an outside problem.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.