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Slack commits to paying contractors during shutdown after laid-off baristas protest

Slack says it will continue to pay contractors while its offices are shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes after five baristas, who learned last week they were being laid off, wrote a letter to the company that they intended to make public on Friday morning. The letter demanded three months pay and health care.

“It’s hard to overstate how dangerous it is to lose both our salaries and our healthcare during a pandemic that is quickly spiraling out of control,” the former employees wrote.

Many large tech companies have proactively offered to continue paying contractors or employees who cannot return to work because of the shutdowns. Slack had not publicly made the same commitment before now, leaving some of its workers worried that they would not have financial support and insurance during a health crisis.

Slack now says it will continue to pay contractors “as per normal schedules” for as long as its work-at-home period is in effect. “We recognize this is a difficult time, and want to protect their health without risking their livelihood,” a Slack spokesperson said in a statement.

The baristas will also receive the three months of pay and health care they requested, though they are still being laid off — at least for now. A spokesperson says they will be offered full-time positions eventually, though it doesn’t currently have a timeline.

Slack says the barista layoffs are unrelated to the office shutdown. The baristas are employed by a staffing agency contracted by Slack, and Slack says it had already contacted the company and made plans to end the baristas’ employment this month before the shutdown happened. The spokesperson said Slack planned to launch a “vendor management program” through which it will offer full-time positions.

Stewart Butterfield, Slack’s CEO, has since directed the company to “accelerate” the launch of this program and “give all of the baristas the opportunity for full-time employment at the launch of our vendor management program and guarantee wages and access to healthcare until that time,” according to the spokesperson.

The baristas had all been at Slack for a year or more and told The Verge that they felt like they were part of the company, even though they technically had a different employer. They said they interviewed at Slack and were encouraged to refer to other employees as coworkers.

“I loved working there. It’s been one of my favorite jobs I’ve ever had, and from day one I was very much told I was just like everybody else who works there,” Cara Bergman, a barista who’s been at Slack for nearly three years, said in a phone call.

Several tech giants have already announced plans to pay workers whose jobs are disappearing due to offices and services being shut down. Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple all said they would keep supporting hourly workers, such as food service employees and security staff, where services have been suspended because of the coronavirus. Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates have also announced plans to support gig workers who can’t work because the virus.

Starting this week, Slack largely shut its offices down through the end of the month, encouraging all employees to work from home and fully closing some locations. Butterfield said in a tweet that, as of Monday, Slack began adjusting to “our new (temporary) existence as an all-remote company.”

“Foremost for us is the health of our employees, customers, and the broader community,” Butterfield wrote.

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