Facebook Raises Pay for Thousands of Its U.S. Contract Workers

May 13, 2019, 6:01 PM UTC
Employees work in Facebook's "War Room," during a media demonstration on October 17, 2018, in Menlo Park, California. - The freshly launched unit at Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters is the nerve center for the fight against misinformation and manipulation of the largest social network by foreign actors trying to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere. The war room, which will ramp up activity for the November 6 midterm US elections, is the most concrete sign of Facebook's efforts to weed out misinformation. (Photo by NOAH BERGER / AFP) (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)

Facebook Inc. said it will give raises to most of its U.S. contract workers, a group of people who have critical roles but aren’t paid or treated as full-time company employees.

The world’s largest social-media company said Monday that the current $15-an-hour minimum wage it requires for U.S. workers is no longer enough for those who live in expensive areas like the San Francisco Bay Area, where Facebook’s headquarters is located. It has tens of thousands of contractors globally, from bus drivers to content moderators who review and remove disturbing and violent photos and videos that show up on the company’s services.

“Because wages so directly affect people’s lives, we obviously have a deep responsibility to look after all the people who work for Facebook – with us as a partner or with us directly,” Janelle Gale, Facebook’s vice president of human resources, said in an interview. “$15 per hour in some of the areas where we operate no longer meets the cost of living.”

Facebook is raising its minimum wage for contract workers to $20 an hour in the Bay Area, New York City, and Washington, and $18 an hour in Seattle. Content moderators will get more. Those in San Francisco, New York, and D.C. will now make at least $22 per hour. Seattle-based moderators will receive a minimum of $20 an hour. In other “metro areas” where content moderators live, like Phoenix, the minimum will be $18 an hour, the company said.

Facebook hires contractors through outside providers, including Accenture Plc and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., and sets minimum wage standards through contracts with those companies. As a result, Facebook said it doesn’t know exactly how much each of its contractors is paid, and it’s possible that some already make more than Facebook’s new threshold. But Gale said the wage increases should help the majority of Facebook’s U.S. contractors.

Gale said she hopes to implement the changes by the summer of 2020. Facebook is also looking at cost-of-living standards in other countries where it hires contractors, she added.

Silicon Valley has developed a poor reputation for its treatment of contract employees, who do necessary and important work but often for much less pay and far fewer perks than company staff. Google has tens of thousands of contract workers who handle everything from staffing the cafeteria to testing self-driving cars. At Apple, contractors work on customer support issues and even Apple News. The rise of this shadow workforce has undermined the tech industry’s reputation as an attractive employer.

Facebook has attempted to improve the atmosphere for contract workers in the past, allowing them to attend classes offered to full-time employees, and even posting signs around its campus that say, “Contractors Are People Too.” In recent months, some employees at the company have begun pressuring management to make larger changes, by bringing up working conditions for contractors at meetings and supporting efforts by organized labor.

Some of the toughest contractor jobs lately have been created by the need for content moderation on massive digital services like Facebook and Google’s YouTube. After Russia used Facebook to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the company beefed up its stable of safety and security employees to 30,000 people, many of them content moderators. In February, The Verge reported that some moderators who spend their days scrubbing these sites have suffered from depression. Some turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Facebook said its decision to increase wages is not a direct response to negative press coverage. “We started this process middle of last year,” Gale said. “Way before those articles came out.”

It is, though, rolling out changes to its moderator program, both technological and policy-related. Facebook built new moderation features to reduce the mental stress that comes with reviewing disturbing content on the internet. Moderators will soon be able to review videos without sound, opt-out of autoplay videos, and look at images in black and white, rather than color. When a graphic image or video is flagged, Facebook said the graphic elements can now be blurred out at first look. Reviewers will still need to remove the blur effect to review the content, but at least it won’t show up in their feed in the abrupt way that it does now.

Facebook also said that it will require vendors to provide on-site counselors at all times while the people are working. “They already have counseling support available through our partners, but as I traveled the world over visiting all our sites, I noticed there wasn’t as much consistency,” said Arun Chandra, vice president of scaled operations at Facebook.

Facebook will now “ensure counseling support is available on site, during all hours of operations, not during only the day shifts,” he added. The company plans biannual audits of its content review operations to ensure partners are adhering to the new guidelines.

“This is really exciting,” said Derecka Mehrens, who helped start Silicon Valley Rising, an advocacy group that backed successful efforts to unionize contract workers including Facebook security guards, shuttle drivers, and cafeteria workers. “We certainly hope that other major tech corporations follow suit.”

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