250 Microsoft employees urge company to end police contracts

10 Jun 2020

Image: © dvoevnore/Stock.adobe.com

A group of Microsoft employees has called on the company to take a stronger stance in light of the ongoing protests.

On Monday (8 June), a group of Microsoft employees called on the company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, to cancel contracts with the Seattle Police Department (SPD) and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the email, which was obtained by OneZero, the Microsoft employees addressed Nadella and the company’s executive vice-president Kurt DelBene, asking them to take a stand in light of protests in Seattle and other cities across the US.

Microsoft’s corporate headquarters are based in the suburbs of Seattle. Demonstrations against police brutality and systemic racism have been taking place in the city since the end of May.

More than 250 Microsoft employees were eventually CC’d in the email, which said that their neighbourhood has been turned into “a warzone” in recent weeks.

The email read: “Every one of us in the CC line are either first-hand witnesses or direct victims to the inhumane responses of SPD to peaceful protesting.”

A list of requests

The Microsoft employees, citing stress from the coronavirus pandemic and the protests, have called on the company to increase leniency in performance reviews. The also asked Microsoft to formally condemn the user of tear gas, rubber bullets and flashbangs by police, while increasing donations to support black communities in the US.

The letter called for the cancellation of contracts with SPD and other law enforcement agencies and support for the defunding of the SPD, and asked the company to sign a petition for the resignation of Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan.

The email read: “Those who choose to support the movement in ways other than boots-on-the-ground protests have also suffered the results of the SPD response. Tear gas streams into apartments through cracks in the wall as far as a mile away.

“The sound of flashbangs and fired tear gas canisters reverberates through the night, past 2 to 3am most days this week, including last night. Worst yet is the fear and stress that these employees are dealing with, fear that has been compounded by SPD’s ever-escalating response.”

The employees said management should be advised to expect “at least” 50pc reduced productivity in light of the circumstances and suggested the introduction of a formal four-day work week policy.

“We need awareness and empathy across every level of management ASAP so that the burden of educating our co-workers doesn’t fall on those of us in the middle of a public safety and mental health crisis.”

According to the Independent, journalists asking for a response from Microsoft have been redirected to an earlier blogpost published by Nadella.

Tensions in the tech world

Microsoft is not the only tech business that has faced employee criticism for its response during the ongoing unrest in the US.

At the beginning of June, a group of Facebook employees organised a virtual walkout in response to the company’s stance on posts made by US president Donald Trump.

In online posts, Trump said he was willing to send the US military to quell demonstrations if there was “any difficulty”, adding that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”. The post was hidden on Twitter for “glorifying violence”, but no action was taken by Facebook for the same post on its platform.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said that it “wouldn’t be right” for the platform to interfere or fact-check politicians and the company shouldn’t be “an arbiter of truth.”

Last week, a group of more than 30 former Facebook employees published an open letter calling on the business to change its stance on posts from politicians.

“That is not a noble stand for freedom,” they wrote. “It is incoherent, and worse, it is cowardly. Facebook should be holding politicians to a higher standard than their constituents.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic