Tableau employees hold rally in Seattle, ask leadership to sever ties with ICE and CBP

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Tableau employees protest the company’s work with the federal government. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Tableau employees are adding their voices to the chorus of tech workers demanding their employers cancel contracts with the federal government to protest its immigration agenda. An organization called the Tableau Employee Ethics Alliance held a rally in Seattle on Tuesday, across the street from the company’s headquarters, to make their demands public.

The employee activists are asking Tableau to “publicly cease its policy of complicity towards the systematic human rights abuses being carried out by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE),” according to an announcement released during the demonstration.

More than 200 employees gathered at Seattle’s Gas Works Park for a rally that was distinctly Tableau in character. Many of them carried signs displaying charts and puns in reference to the data visualization and business intelligence company. There were light-hearted inside jokes, including a recitation of eight rejected names for the rally that “only Tableau people will get.” The demonstrators settled on “Drawing a Line: Tableau Rally for Human Rights” as the official name for the event.

There were also somber moments. Nika Neshyba-Nara, a marketing specialist for Tableau, read several stories of migrants detained at the border in their own words.

The event is the latest example of tech worker activism, a growing movement in which employees at technology companies put pressure on their employers to take positions on political issues. For more than a year, tech employees have been self-organizing in response to policies enacted by President Donald Trump’s administration. Its immigration agenda and child separation policy are particularly energizing to rank-and-file tech workers.

“These families are being separated needlessly,” Neshyba-Nara said. “They need our love and our strength and not our fear.”

The Tableau employees who organized the rally did not cite specific contracts or projects between the company and the federal government. Instead, they called for a broad moratorium on work with ICE and CBP.

“Moral rot is not a problem we can solve with software,” Tableau research scientist Michael Correll told the crowd. “I just can’t keep my head down and keep working … we can’t build with one hand and destroy with the other.”

Tableau has a dedicated webpage for “Government Analytics.” A search of a federal government database revealed a number of small contracts between Tableau and various federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, which houses ICE and CBP. In a 2017 audit, DHS said it intended to establish an enterprise license agreement with Tableau. Hassett Willis and Company, a third-party government consultancy firm, “has introduced Tableau across multiple agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security,” according to Tableau’s YouTube channel.

In a statement provided to GeekWire, a spokesperson for Tableau’s leadership team said “We deeply care about the human side of these complex issues.”

“Core to our values, Tableau has a long history of using data to actively engage to address social problems,” the spokesperson added. “Consistent with our values, we respect diverse thought and open dialogue.”

(GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Members of The Tableau Employee Ethics Alliance say they initially brought their concerns to company leadership internally before going public with their message.

“They offered what we consider good-sounding-but-vague intentions, then declared their decision made and the internal discussion over,” the group said in the announcement published Tuesday. “But our personal and professional ethics do not allow us to simply disagree and move on.”

Tableau employees are following in the footsteps of tech workers at Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and Chef who have publicly called out their employers on issues such as immigration, climate change, and sexual harassment in the workplace.

“We’re not the first people in tech to stand up against ICE and I don’t think we’ll be the last to stand up either,” said Correll. “We are, as an industry and a culture, awakening to the fact that we have power to step in and make people listen.”

Tech companies are responding to this new wave of employee activism in different ways. Last summer, Google decided not to renew a contract for the Pentagon’s Project Maven after 4,000 employees expressed concerns about their work being used for lethal purposes. In September, Seattle software company Chef said it would sunset contracts with ICE and CBP after employees protested.

Microsoft — which just won a massive $10 billion cloud contract with the Department of Defense — is resolute in its decision to continue working with the federal government. In an interview with GeekWire, Microsoft President Brad Smith explained why the company won’t unplug government agencies from its services, even if some policies go against Microsoft’s values.

Tableau would not say whether it will make any changes in response to the employee activism. The company’s new leader has not shied away from taking political positions in the past. Tableau was recently acquired by Salesforce, the San Francisco software company helmed by Marc Benioff.

Sometimes called an “activist CEO,” Benioff has put his resources behind a wide range of issues, from LGBTQ rights to homelessness. Tableau employees cited Benioff’s comments on activism and civic engagement several times during the rally Tuesday.

Benioff addresses this new wave of employee activism and the responsibility of corporations in his new book “Trailblazers.”

“Employees who feel empowered to express their views on tough issues are not just better employees, but more fulfilled people,” Benioff wrote. “And when we as leaders speak out for the causes we believe in, we inspire employees to do the same.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that more than 200 employees attended the rally.

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