Coinbase Buyouts: Quitting in Political Protest is Easier for Tech Workers

Hello folks, it’s Shelly. At least one thing is more remarkable than the huge number of employees who left Coinbase Inc. last week over disagreements with the company’s ban on political speech. That they did so while the US was facing a crisis of unemployment and growing uncertainty about the economic outlook after the election.

Sixty people, or 5% of Coinbase staff, choose exit packages after the chief executive officer, Brian Armstrong, told employees to either keep their political views and social activism out of the workplace or leave. The company, which runs a platform to buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, instituted the policy after employees staged a walk-out over Armstrong’s silence on Black Lives Matter.

“Everyone asks the question of how companies should engage in broader social issues during these difficult times,” Armstrong wrote in a blog post. “We have just made the decision not to take part in wider activism.”

While Coinbase’s actions drew harsh reprimands by tech founders like Jack Dorsey on Twitter Inc., he brought praise from a corner of Silicon Valley that has rebelled against activism in the tech industry. No matter who you side with, laying it all out makes it easier for employees to assess “where we want to spend our time and invest our labor,” Mimi Fox Melton of Code2040 told the Washington Post.

And it is a reminder that while the rest of the economy may be in a shambles, the tech job market is as competitive as ever. While the national unemployment rate was 7.9% last month, it was only 3.5% for tech jobs, according to an analysis of government data by the trade group Comptia. That means a qualified engineer can take and go to work elsewhere at any time.

There are exceptions, of course, as foreign workers whose visas are attached to their employers. But take Clem Freeman, Coinbase’s software engineer, as an example. Freeman tweets that he disagreed with the decisions made by the Coinbase leadership, and within hours, streamed dozens of queries from other tech companies on Twitter, trying to openly recruit him.

Some employers may think that rooting the politics workplace can achieve a utopian goal of total productivity without distraction. But one of the reasons tech workers can demand changes to workplace diversity, walk out on stage and lead social justice campaigns is because they have far more leverage than, say, workers in the retail or manufacturing industries.

With technology engineers still in high demand, the risk companies like Coinbase are running when they stand that do not fit what employees want is that many can, and will, walk out for ever. —Shelly Banjo

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