Activists petition Netflix over parental leave policy

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LOS GATOS — Netflix’s policy of excluding its hourly DVD workers from its generous new parental leave policy has now drawn a small protest and a big petition writing campaign.

Around midday on Tuesday, a handful of activists representing a coalition of labor and women’s rights groups showed up at the company’s headquarters here to urge the company to change its policy. Though small in number — only about eight activists took part — they were armed with more than one-hundred thousand petitions signed online urging the company to broaden its leave policy to include hourly workers.

The protest was the first step in an ongoing campaign to pressure Netflix to change its policy, said Melissa Byrne, a consultant with women’s rights group UltraViolet who was one of the organizers.

Tuesday’s protest was “the kickoff of a lot more work to hold Netflix accountable,” she said. “All workers should be treated equally when it comes to parental leave.”

Netflix’s representatives did not respond to an emailed request seeking comment.

Company CEO Reed Hastings and Netflix’s head of human resources declined requests by the activists to meet with them, according to Byrne. The activists handed over their petitions to a company facilities manager who then shooed them from the building, she said.

“I found everyone here to be cold and not willing to have a conversation,” Byrne said.

The streaming video company drew immediate applause earlier this month when it announced that it would be giving employees who are new parents up to a year of paid leave. Many observers saw it as a new perk that other tech companies would be pressured to match. Indeed, in the wake of the announcement, Microsoft and Adobe announced more generous parental leave policies.

But the good feeling Netflix’s new policy engendered soon soured following reports that it only applied to salaried employees of the company’s streaming media operations, not to hourly workers of its DVD unit. Netflix has an estimated 2,000 salaried streaming workers and about 400 to 500 hourly DVD employees who work at distribution centers scattered around the country.

The controversy over Netflix’s leave policy comes as Silicon Valley companies have drawn fire for their hiring and benefits policies. Labor activists have taken aim at the companies for their treatment of hourly workers like bus drivers and security guards. Rev. Jesse Jackson and other civil rights leaders have drawn attention to the lack of diversity within tech firms and pushed for change. And a growing number of reports have detailed how the Valley is often an unfriendly, even hostile place for female workers.

Among the groups represented at Tuesday’s protest were UltraViolet, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Working Families Party, Democracy for America, Make It Work, and Coworker.org.

In addition to the protest and the petition, concerned citizens and customers have been calling and tweeting the company, Byrne said.

“There’s going to be a lot more,” she said.

Photo: Labor and women’s rights activists on Tuesday, September 1at at Netflix’s headquarters in Los Gatos, where they delivered more than 100,000 petitions urging the company to extend its parental leave policy to hourly workers. (Courtesy of Chelsea Belbart/Naral Pro-Choice California)