March 20, 2019

Camila: Overworked And Underpaid

This story comes from Camila, a contingent worker at Facebook. Their name and a few details have been changed to protect their privacy.

Hi! I’m Camila; I joined Facebook as a contingent worker shortly after graduating college— where I prepared for a career focusing in UX research and UI design.

When I was in college thinking about my career, I made it my goal to work at a company like Facebook, Google, or Apple. I heard they were the best places to work, with well-treated employees. It was important to me to work somewhere that would let me express my creativity. Hence, when I saw a position open at Facebook to run user research studies, I thought it was a match made in heaven. I had the exact experience this position required thanks to lab work from school! I applied online directly to Facebook, as well as other places like Google.

Unfortunately, the job market is rough; I didn’t get a response back from Facebook until 6 months after I applied. I remember applying for around 40 jobs a month, and I worked a retail job in the meantime. I had gotten so used to rejection emails for my applications that I wrote a mail filter so I wouldn’t have to read the crushing emails.

When I finally got a call back, it was from a contracting agency. I actually thought it was a spam call at first; it was an unfamiliar number and at first sounded kinda like a telemarketer. It wasn’t until they mentioned Facebook that I realized what it was about. They called while I was at work and gave me 3 hours to fill out a questionnaire about my work experience. I’m lucky that my manager at my retail job was understanding and excited for me. I had a single quick phone interview, and then 10 minutes later I was extended an offer. I took it on the spot.

I didn’t understand what it meant to be a contingent worker until my first day at Facebook. During orientation, they repeatedly emphasized that we weren’t “actual” Facebook employees. I was told by my contracting agency, after asking for clarification multiple times, that I was “contract-to-hire”. They phrased it as going from a contracting position to a full-time position after a 3 month period, like a probation period. I thought that if I really kicked ass at my role for 3 months, then I would have it made as a full-time employee of Facebook. To my understanding, that is the impression that many many contingent workers have.

In reality, contracts just keep getting extended and extended and extended for a two year period, the deadline by which a contractor must be hired as full-time. But by that time, most have already left the company. It’s rare that they’re converted to a full-time or a vendor role. Often, they are “put on break” for a few months and then brought back as a contingent worker in a nearly identical role that is only different on paper.

A few weeks into my role I learned that contractors at Facebook are also dramatically underpaid. So many of us have to work on overtime projects just to earn the extra money needed to pay their rent and utilities. I tried to negotiate my pay after getting a late callback from Google during my first weeks at Facebook; they offered $10 more an hour for very similar work. I didn’t take the role there for a variety of reasons, such as not being able to make the commute. I did however try negotiating a wage increase with my contracting agency after telling them about the offer; I was even ready to settle for $2 more to the hour, which they flatly denied. This really solidified the second-class status for me.

At the end of the year after just taxes and rent and utilities, I take home less than $15,000-$20,000 a year. It’s so bad. That’s money to live on and save! I want to go back to school, maybe one day buy a house. I don’t even have 401(k) matching from my agency, yet another perk that full-time employees from Facebook have. If it wasn’t for overtime projects, I wouldn’t be saving a dime.

Feeling second-class manifests in other ways, too. I can’t attend events that directly involve me and my work. I can’t go to team offsites or to company Q&As where much is made about Facebook's openness and transparency. I feel like I get condescending looks at my badge, which is colored blue to mark me as a contingent worker. I can't attend events that are hosted for the minority groups to which I belong, and if I tried, I'd be escorted out by security. None of us get any career guidance from our contracting agencies; they rarely reach out to check in and don't even know what my day-to-day work is. Most of us haven't even met our management face-to-face! We’re not allowed to get feedback from full-time employees; every full-time employee is afraid of providing evidence that contingent employment is coemployment. For many contingent workers, there are no clear options for growing our careers and moving up. No matter how hard some of us work or how overqualified we are, getting that conversion to full-time status is a close to impossible battle.

But I really like everyone I work with! They’re really awesome people -- engineers, product designers, product managers, engineering managers, artists. I don’t blame them about being able to do anything about the contingent worker situation; it’s not their choice, and they also see there’s a caste system. Several of them tell me that I’m overqualified for the kind of work I’m doing. I was originally hired to run user studies, annotating and analyzing data, sustaining research efforts… but I’m doing much more than that. Cross-functional communication with various groups of people, for example. I’ve even been designing user studies and volunteering my unique knowledge in other team efforts. I help my team brainstorm what research they need to run for their products. These are activities that would guarantee promotions and raises for a full-time employee, but it gets me nothing but professional pride.

I’ve been at Facebook for 8 months now, so I’ve gone through two contract renewals. Why stay? Passion for my research and the ability to feel like I can have an impact. No other job provides the same sense of satisfaction as this; I don’t even think I’d get the same satisfaction from the Google offer I got.

Among all the indignities I suffer, the one that angers me most is being told I’m being paid what the “market” says I should be paid, then seeing these exact same skilled positions at other companies like Google and Apple paying so much more. I come from a highly skilled background and I’m doing much more than what I was hired to do! I should be paid more than $25/hr! How much we’re being underpaid… it’s embarrassing for Facebook.

Next time I’m offered a contingent position, I’m going to push for full-time instead. I’ll negotiate a raise more confidently. I know my worth and the worth of my fellow contingent workers and TVCs not just at Facebook but across the tech industry, and we are tired of being second-class. I am done dealing with Facebook's two-faced behavior, talking big words about the good of the global community while crushing tens of thousands of contingent workers across the very same globe under its heel.