July 9, 2020


Born to play

Airbnb Quietly Fired Hundreds of Contract Workers. I’m One of Them

In April, with travel halted around the world and income plunging, the cofounders of Airbnb...

In April, with travel halted around the world and income plunging, the cofounders of Airbnb raised $2 billion in debt and equity financing. Two months afterwards, I was laid off.

WIRED Viewpoint


Anna Furman is a Los Angeles-primarily based author. She addresses arts and culture tales for the New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications.

For thirteen months, I labored entire-time as a agreement copywriter on a social effects initiative at Airbnb—and prior to that, for 4 months on a marketing job for the firm. My business everyday living resembled that of any entire-time personnel: I snacked on charcuterie boards and fresh new ahi poke bowls, rejiggered my calendar to accommodate conflicting meetings, and cheered for employees on their perform anniversaries (a peculiar Silicon Valley ritual that celebrates equity accruing).

Not like entire-time employees, agreement workers are not entitled to Airbnb’s high quality well being care, generous 401(k), unrestricted compensated getaway time, transportation coverage, and inventory alternatives. I was utilized by the temp agency Pro Limitless, but my only get in touch with with the agency was to file time sheets and to inquire about accrued sick-day hrs.

On April 21, about a sterile one-way movie simply call, a agent from Pro Limitless examine from what appeared to be a script to advise me and hundreds of other folks that our contracts would be lower small, helpful the next 7 days. In a blog article, Airbnb’s chief executive Brian Chesky claimed that the firm would “optimize for 1:1 communication” pertaining to layoffs, a curious guarantee presented that the ratio for speaking with contractors was far more like 1:500. For a firm that prides by itself on cultivating human connection, Airbnb’s approach to laying off 534 contractors with its associate agency was remarkably callous. (In Might, three hundred additional contractors were laid off utilized by organizations like California-primarily based catering firm Bon Appétit, they filled meals, services, and security roles.)

Two months afterwards, the firm laid off 1,900 employees. They acquired at minimum 14 months severance pay out, 4 months of psychological well being aid, and health insurance coverage for one 12 months for US employees, in addition to obtaining equity. Forbes lauded Chesky for providing “a learn course in empathy and compassion,” and Small business Insider praised the company’s approach to layoffs as “uniquely generous.” This glowing coverage failed to reckon with the entire picture of layoffs, which incorporates an invisible workforce of contractors locked out from accessing all those positive aspects.

Right after termination, I acquired one week’s pay out, a lot less than seven p.c of what laid off employees were available. Contractors who opted into health insurance coverage from Pro Limitless noticed their ideas instantly terminated. And of training course, contractors really do not have inventory alternatives.

Like so quite a few businesses in Silicon Valley, Airbnb depends seriously on agreement labor—for roles ranging from copywriters and photographers to meals planning, security, and janitorial personnel. (Foodstuff provider employment at Airbnb’s workplaces in San Francisco and Portland, according to a 2018 Gizmodo report, are composed practically totally of subcontractors.) In 2019, they labored with far more than 30 organizations globally, according to Christopher Nulty, Airbnb’s head of general public plan. Across the sector, businesses are increasingly doing the job with third-bash organizations to accelerate and simplify the hiring procedure, bringing massive teams of workers on at once with a lot less risk and typically at a decreased expense than entire-time employees. At some tech businesses, agreement workers comprise far more than 50 p.c of the workforce. (Disclosure: WIRED employs prolonged-phrase subcontractors for some roles.)

This glowing coverage failed to reckon with the entire picture of layoffs, which incorporates an invisible workforce of contractors locked out from accessing all those positive aspects.

This two-tier labor process makes it possible for businesses to boast generous positive aspects on the one hand and to handle contractors as dispensable labor on the other. While California’s new AB five legislation makes an attempt to restrict companies’ use of agreement labor, although its jurisdiction is remaining debated, quite a few businesses like Airbnb have continued to do business as usual when laid off, contractors throughout Silicon Valley—at businesses such as Apple, Facebook, and Google—typically experience unequal severance packages. This is primarily troubling presented that tech contractors are disproportionately people of coloration. (The legislation also applies to movie creation, news publishers, and cleaning businesses, amongst other businesses.)

“Airbnb is a firm that positions by itself as a manufacturer for the people, of the people—and then internally, people are taken care of like second-course citizens,” states a present personnel, who spoke on the ailment of anonymity. “It’s hypocritical.” Far more than a dozen former agreement workers say Airbnb was their employer in all the things but identify and positive aspects. Airbnb, not Pro Limitless, assigned me a particular supervisor, dictated my perform program, decided my charge, and made a decision when to retain the services of and fireplace me.