Google Contract Workers Continue to Join Alphabet Workers Union-CWA as Layoffs Increase

Originally published in Labor Today

The over 1,400 members of the Alphabet Worker’s Union (AWU) have witnessed racial and gender bias reflected in pay, sexual harassment, mass layoffs, and retaliation from Alphabet and its subsidiaries amid a growing contradiction between the demands of Alphabet’s full-time employees, temporary workers, contractors, and vendors for a better work environment as well as better pay amidst America’s economic woes.

In late January of this year, Alphabet laid off an unprecedented 12,000 employees, leaving the remaining workers demoralized and unmotivated. In a meeting with investors, Google CEO Sundar Pichai briefly thanked “the Googlers leaving us,” before checking off other important topics to discuss in the meeting, such as competing with ByteDance’s American subsidiary, TikTok.

Despite not being strong enough to negotiate with Google directly, the AWU has legal ammunition to use against the tech industry giant. On January 3rd of this year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Google’s decision to avoid bargaining with contract workers represented by AWU violated federal labor laws.

Workers of the staffing firm Cognizant Technology Solutions were subject to many changes in working conditions without representation throughout their contract work with Google, including but not limited to requiring hybrid and remote workers to return to the office as well as a revocation of the workers’ sick pay during their work for YouTube Music. The Cognizant contractors unanimously voted 41-0 to join the AWU, a vote which Google appealed citing that it “did not have enough control over the workers to be considered a so-called ‘joint employer’ that must bargain with their union.”

The NLRB applied a rule on joint employment adopted during former President Donald Trump’s administration stating that businesses have to exercise direct control over workers to be required to bargain with unions. The NLRB stated that not only does Google directly supervise workers provided by Cognizant, but it also has direct control over their hours and benefits. However, the precedent for deciding when businesses are joint employers of contract or franchise workers has been in question since the Obama administration. An NLRB rule taking effect in February says companies are joint employers even when their control over working conditions is indirect. This decision is currently being challenged by several major business groups.

In November of last year, a group of about 120 employees of Google contractor Accenture, who work on AI, voted to unionize. According to an article by Meg Duff of Slate, “Google claims it is not the workers’ joint employer and is challenging the results of that election.” According to Katie-Marie Marschner, a YouTube Music worker and AWU member, “any future appeals by Alphabet are just an attempt to avoid collectively bargaining with the union and pad the pockets of shareholders and executives.”