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Texas abortion and voting measures put workers off

On September 3, just two days after the Texas abortion ban, Vivek Bhaskaran, managing director of an Austin-based online survey software company, quickly rounded up the handful of city-based workers.

In a virtual town hall that lasted about 15 minutes, he told the women that regardless of the insurance, the company would cover out-of-state abortion services.

“I am not a politician; I can’t change anything. But I am still responsible for my employees in Texas, and I have a moral responsibility to them, ”said Mr. Bhaskaran, CEO of QuestionPro.

In recent years, Texas has presented itself as a tech haven attracting start-ups and tech companies like Oracle, Hewlett-Packard Enterprises and even Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder and CEO of Tesla, who moved to the state. . Big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have all increased their presence in the state, opening new warehouses, data centers, and production facilities.

But Texas’ recent drift towards abortion rights, voting restrictions as well as a ban on coronavirus vaccine mandates has many workers and industry leaders like Mr Bhaskaran worried about retaining workers and to recruit the best technological talent in the state. As of August, Texas had 33,843 tech jobs – the second highest in the United States after California – according to a report by the Computing Technology Industry Association. This is 56% more than a year earlier.

“We are already finding it extremely difficult to attract tech workers,” Bhaskaran said, noting that there are more jobs than talent in the industry. “This seems like an extremely pointless conversation that we will have to have” with potential recruits.

Texas’ new abortion law, which came into effect earlier this month, bans six-week abortions and allows private citizens to sue people or services who perform or assist with an abortion. Declaring parties could receive at least $ 10,000 (£ 7,223) and recover legal costs if they win their case. In response, the US Department of Justice sued the state over the law, trying to block it.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also signed a bill on Thursday banning large tech companies from blocking or restricting people or their posts based on their perspective, paving the way for a legal battle with the technology industry. Mr Abbott also criticized President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for private companies, calling it a “takeover.”

Texas led the country in terms of population growth in 2020, attracting 373,965 residents, according to US Census Bureau estimates. While experts say it’s too early to say whether the new laws will lead to a massive shift in worker migration, they note that the right-wing measures could lead to a hiatus from left-wing tech workers considering relocating. in the state.

“You might see a slowdown,” said Richard Alm, writer in residence at the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who studies Texas economics. “It can have an impact on the labor supply if workers are less willing to move to Texas.”

After Mr Abbott enacted the abortion bill, many tech workers quickly took to social media platforms such as Twitter to voice their concerns, frustration and fears. For some tech industry workers who have recently moved to the state, the abortion law prompts them to consider moving elsewhere.

This is the case of Valerie Veteto, a copywriter, who has worked freelance for technology companies in San Francisco, including Salesforce, Patreon and Lyft. She moved to Austin from San Francisco in September 2020, drawn by the ambiance, creativity, live music scene, and the city’s low cost of living.

But a few months later, when Texas’ power grid went down during a winter storm, leaving millions of people without electricity, heat or water, Veteto began to question his choice.

“It was a moment that shook my confidence to live here. So obviously what is happening now sealed the deal, ”she said. She and her boyfriend are now considering moving to New York City.

Some professionals in the tech industry say they are worried about what the passage of the abortion law says about where Texas is heading in terms of other major social issues.

“It scares me,” said Deep Barot, a Texas-based San Francisco-based angel investor in biotech, software and cryptocurrency companies. “It’s an abortion law, but what’s the next step? “

The problem comes down to one question, SMU’s Mr Alm said: Can employers retain and attract top tech talent despite the state’s restrictive new laws?

David Panarelli, user experience designer for an e-commerce company in San Diego, said he and his wife had considered moving to Texas, but both are concerned about how authorities have handled issues such as the immigration, pandemic and masking guidelines. The abortion law reaffirmed their fears, he said.

“If I’m in a situation where I have to make an extremely irreversible decision, I don’t want anyone to make that decision for me,” he said. “It’s not about women. It is about human rights.

Crystal Wiese, Marketing Director of QuestionPro, said the reaction from people to the virtual town hall was mostly silence.

“It was a reassuring feeling, but it’s not the kind of conversation you expect to have with your CEO. “

Some Texas-based tech companies have been quick to respond to what is essentially an abortion ban, recognizing that it could have a big impact on recruiting and retaining talent in the future.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said in a tweet Friday that he would be willing to relocate his employees if they wanted to move without providing further details. A Salesforce employee who declined to be named said the company told workers via an internal chat that if they had concerns about access to reproductive health care in their states, Salesforce would help them address them. relocate, as well as their immediate families.

Dallas-based Match, which operates dating apps, said its CEO Shar Dubey is setting up a fund to help cover the cost of abortion services for employees who must travel out of state.

“I immigrated to America from India over 25 years ago and I have to say that as a resident of Texas, I am shocked to now live in a state where female reproductive laws are over. regressive than most countries of the world, including India, ”Ms. Dubey said in a note to employees earlier this month. “Surely everyone should see the danger of this highly punitive and unfair law.”

Michael Dell, president and CEO of Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, sent a note to employees on September 8, addressing the latest Texas laws, saying the company believes in “the right to free, fair and equitable access. to the vote ”and that its objective is to give employees“ more coverage ”in matters of health“ not less ”. The company declined to say if it has anything specific related to Texas abortion and voting laws.

HPE still believes its policies and benefits will attract workers “no matter where they are,” spokesman Adam Bauer said. But he said the company can’t predict if and how this will impact hiring in the future.

Kat Scott, a San Francisco-based developer and advocate for the open-source Open Robotics foundation, said if the law was not removed quickly, it would have a lasting impact on people’s perception of the state.

“It will be extremely difficult to recruit women or young people,” she said.

Washington post

The Independent Gt

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