At least 290 Facebook employees and contractors have signed a petition demanding that Facebook content moderators receive hazard pay and other benefits when they return to the office.
On October 1, Accenture informed content moderators based in Austin, Texas that they would be required to return to the office on October 12—despite the fact that Facebook has allowed its full-time employees to continue working remotely until July 2021.
The petition was circulated on an internal Facebook group called Workers@ that includes both contractors and full-time Facebook employees, as well as a group called TakeAction that was formed following George Floyd’s murder to address issues at Facebook related to racism. The petition was signed by both Facebook employees and contractors.
Since March, Accenture has allowed hundreds of moderators to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and according to the Verge, did not provide an explanation for why workers had to return to the office on October 12. The news has prompted widespread fear from contractors, and growing anger from full time Facebook employees expressed in internal company forums, according to screenshots of postings in internal Facebook groups viewed by Motherboard.
The petition outlines eight main demands: that Facebook contractors who return to the office receive a 50 percent increase in hourly wages as hazard pay, worker compensation for all costs related to COVID-19 treatment and testing, paid leave and sick time for time taken off as a result of COVID-19, an additional 32 hours of paid time off per month, an expedited process for approving time off (24 hours instead of one month), and in the event that a worker's family member tests positive for COVID-19, full compensation for that worker and the cost of the family member's medical care.
"I signed the petition because the idea of going back and working is very, very stressful, and making me feel really anxious. I live with a mother and a one-year-old with compromised immune systems," a Facebook content moderator in Austin, Texas who was called back to work on Monday told Motherboard. They work in the child safety queue, reviewing child pornography and violence against children on the platform.
"Facebook and Accenture have proven time and again that we don't matter to them. We're just a number," they continued. "There’s already so much stress coming from the work we do. It's not wanting to be sexually active with your partner, and feeling uncomfortable around children. We signed a contract to work there with the understanding that our mental health would be valued. We didn’t sign up to sacrifice our health, our family's health and our mental health. We don't get paid enough for that."
Facebook content moderators review graphic videos, hate speech, and other disturbing material posted on Facebook for violations of its community policies. The job has been widely acknowledged as mentally and emotionally distressing to workers, some of whom have developed post-traumatic stress disorders after spending hours viewing content that includes, murder, assault, and pornography.
As the election nears, Facebook is currently facing intense pressure to enforce its own policies that ban content that includes misinformation and calls to violence on the platform. Much of this labor is executed by Facebook's 15,000 content moderators, almost all of whom are contractors employed by third-party companies.
“No, snacks don't make up for it. No one cares about the snacks.”
Since the return to the office announcement was made on October 1, full-time Facebook employees and contractors have been expressing fear and anger in posts on the internal Facebook group Workers@, which were first reported by Buzzfeed.
"Even after all of these months of going through a global pandemic, they still don't even have decency to offer us sick days," one Accenture contractor wrote. "Sure they'll pay us if we get COVID, but if we get the flu? Hope you have the PTO."
"That fact that it hasn't even occurred to them to give us this tiny kindness is ghoulish," they continued. "We are being shown blatant disregard for our well-being, and it's outlandish, disrespectful, and greedy. They will shove as many people as they can into one building so they can make one more dollar. And no, snacks don't make up for it. No one cares about the snacks."
Facebook holds weekly Q&A sessions, where Mark Zuckerberg and other executives often answer questions by employees. Employees can pose questions that are voted on by other employees as high priority. In the lead up to an October 8 session, several employees posted questions related to their concerns about the return of Accenture content moderators to the office that received hundreds of upvotes.
"Why don't we hire content moderators as full-time employees? They do extremely difficult work and are being asked to return to the office," one of the questions that received the most upvotes said, according to screenshots obtained by Motherboard.
Other top questions that received hundreds of upvotes included "Breitbart promoted QAnon-boosted Biden conspiracy on 9/29 after streaming COVID misinfo to millions in summer—why is it a trust news source?" and "Human rights monitors say Facebook is pushing Ethiopia toward genocide like Myanmar. What is your perspective on this warning?"
Currently, Facebook content moderators employed by Accenture in Austin said they do not receive paid sick days, and must approve time off a month in advance.
In addition to the demands listed above, the petition asks that employees "be spaced out according to CDC guidelines, and will be required to wear masks at all times other than when eating. Temperatures will be taken upon entrance into the office. Employees will be tested on a monthly basis, with all testing costs covered by the company…. Should a vaccine become available, the company will cover the cost."
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Accenture did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but a post on an internal Facebook group said that the company will enforce limited 25 percent capacities in buildings, a mandatory mask requirement, 24-hour deep cleanings of the office, and "robust contact tracing." A spokesperson for Facebook told the Verge that “A lot of the work done by the Accenture Austin team involves work streams that can’t be done from home.”
“Since March, we’ve increased our use of technology and enabled an overwhelming majority of our reviewers to work from home,” a Facebook spokesperson told Motherboard. “But considering some of the most sensitive content can’t be reviewed from home, we’ve begun allowing reviewers back into some of our sites as government guidance has permitted. Our focus on reopening any office is on how it can be done in a way that prioritizes people's health and safety. We are putting strict measures in place, making sure they’re followed, and addressing any confirmed cases of illness.”
Update: This post has been updated with comment from Facebook.