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GitHub's trying to quell employee anger over its ICE contract. It's not going well.

Johana Bhuiyan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

The results of Github's quarterly anonymous employee survey -- which showed a decline in trust of leadership -- were originally slated to be presented to employees on Oct. 10, according to documents and a schedule reviewed by The Times. There was no meeting on Oct. 10, however, and a company-wide Q&A session scheduled for Oct. 11 was canceled. After Github canceled that meeting, Brescia admonished employees not to speak with outsiders about company matters. "We are all responsible for respecting and protecting internal, non-public information from being disclosed and protecting the privacy of fellow Hubbers as we engage in open dialogue on sensitive issues," she wrote in an email explaining the cancellation.

Employees were then told the survey results would be shared at the Oct. 24 all-hands meeting, according to internal Slack messages The Times reviewed. However, executives leading the meeting did a sales recap and previewed an upcoming conference, among other agenda items, without discussing the survey, two employees said. (The company said it did share the results of the survey with employees on the day of the meeting, just not at the meeting.) They also did not respond to questions employees posed in a dedicated Slack channel. Executives typically respond to the questions in Slack during these meetings, the two employees said.

One of those employees, staff engineer Sophie Haskins, resigned Monday, stating in her resignation letter that she was leaving because the company did not cancel its contract with ICE and "shows no indication of canceling the contract," which she wrote was "morally unacceptable."

"I decided early on after the execs' letter that my 'line in the sand' was that we must cancel the contract by the end of the month," said Haskins.

In his original memo, Friedman indicated that GitHub's work with ICE was through a reseller and that the company didn't know what projects its platform was being used for. In her Oct. 22 letter, Brescia said GitHub's servers were being used by Homeland Security Investigations and the Enforcement and Removal Operations division, among others. The ERO division is tasked with deporting and detaining immigrants.

"ICE is a large organization with many divisions, and we believe through Support interactions, that ICE has set up instances within the Homeland Security Investigations arm, M&A, and ERO divisions," she wrote. Brescia cited the "other important work ICE does, such as stopping child exploitation, human trafficking, money laundering and disrupting terrorist networks." Brescia added she was not defending ICE, simply sharing facts.

In a fact sheet circulating within Github, employees opposing the ICE contract wrote that the Github sales team actively pursued the contract renewal with ICE. The Times reviewed screenshots of an internal Slack channel after the contract was renewed on Sept. 4 that appear to show sales employees celebrating a $56,000 upgrade of the contract with ICE. The message, which congratulated four employees for the sale and was accompanied by emojis of a siren, bald eagle and American flag, read "stay out of their way. $56k upgrade at DHS ICE." Five people responded with an American flag emoji.

 

The company did not respond directly to questions about whether the sales team actively pursued this contract.

Github parent company Microsoft -- which has contracts with ICE worth over $8 million, according to Recode -- has also resisted giving into employee demands to stop working with the agency.

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