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TECHNOLOGY COMPANIES BESET BY EMPLOYEE PROTESTS OVER COMPANY OPERATIONS

Employee protests at technology companies have gone beyond common employee issues and expanded to important company business decisions.  As workforces become more skilled and unemployment drops, certain industries have become more tolerant of outspoken employees.  Over the last year, workers have protested at companies over military contracting, sexual harassment, and the treatment of temporary and contract workers.  At Microsoft, employees are demanding that the company abandon a $480 million contract with the U.S. Army.  Hundreds of Microsoft workers have signed a petition criticizing a contract with U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement.  At Facebook, employees are protesting use of staffing firms to supply some 15,000 content reviewers.  At Google, workers staged sit-ins over a dozen offices protesting retaliation against workers involved in activism.  Some 15 shareholder proposals at Amazon come from its own employees covering topics from food waste and facial recognition to the environmental effects of company locations. 

These developments put company CEOs in a dilemma.  Executives have duties to shareholders, which must be balanced against employee desires.  Further, companies and CEOs themselves may generate some of this employee activism by "CEO activism" on certain public issues.  Thus, CEOs and their companies can face backlash from employees and even from consumers who disagree with their point of view on current social and political issues.  In this environment, CEOs should not be surprised when customers or employees disagree with their positions on issues.  Careful planning is necessary so that CEOs won't be blind-sided on certain issues.  CEOs should consider a public relations or corporate communications team to plan such responses to the next big issue.


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