YouTube Music contractors in the Austin area who voted to unionize accuse their employers of abusing return-to-office policies to stifle labor organizers. The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that YouTube’s parent company Alphabet and staffing company Cognizant are using an abrupt shift back to the office, scheduled for February, to punish remote workers, many of whom are reportedly pro-union. Some also live outside of Austin. Managers have also been sending work to other offices to “chill” union organizing efforts in Austin, according to the complaint, while one supervisor allegedly made implicit anti-union threats.
While the workers are contracted, they claim that Alphabet and Cognizant represent a “joint employer.” If so, Alphabet would be responsible for labor conditions and would have to negotiate if the Austin-area team votes for a union.
We have asked Alphabet and Cognizant for feedback. In a statement to BloombergA Cognizant spokesperson claims that staff were “fully aware” of an eventual return to the office prior to the unionization petition, and that it has “repeatedly and consistently” informed employees of its return-to-office policy since December 2021. Those contractors who voluntarily left the Austin area and are unable to return to work in person may also be “considered” for other work at Cognizant, the spokesperson says.
This is not the first rise in tension between Alphabet and pro-union contractors. In the spring of 2022, Washington state Cognizant employees working on Google Maps warned that they would go on strike over allegedly unreasonable return-to-office hours. Cognizant delayed the return for 90 days. Meanwhile, at Google, many cafeteria workers have quietly unionized during the pandemic in search of better conditions.
The dispute comes as Alphabet is cutting 12,000 jobs around the world in the wake of tough economic conditions and falling profits. While that number only covers direct employees, it reflects pressure to reduce labor costs. That, in turn, can lead to conflicts with pro-union workers seeking better wages and benefits.
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