A group of 40 YouTube Music workers went on strike Friday. Employed by Alphabet subcontractor Cognizant, the striking workers allege that both companies’ management have leveraged unfair labor practices to get in the way of their union drive.
“Right now, the vast majority of our department is ready to vote yes in a [National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)] election,” said YouTube Music generalist Sam Regan at a strike in Austin, Texas, viewed via Facebook livestream. “In an act of retaliation against our organizing efforts, our employer is forcing an end to remote work before the vote, which would dramatically interfere with the fair voting conditions mandated by federal law.”
YouTube Music’s content operations team is expected to return to the Austin office on Monday. But according to the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), the majority of workers were hired remotely, and almost one quarter are not even based in Texas. Cognizant said that these jobs were always intended to return to office.
“Workers are paid as little as $19 dollars an hour and thus, cannot afford the relocation, travel or childcare costs associated with in person work,” the AWU said in a press release.
On January 23, the AWU — affiliated with the Communications Workers of America — filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. Per national law, it is illegal for employers to interfere with employee organizing, or retaliate against workers for participating in organizing efforts.
“Cognizant respects the right of our associates to disagree with our policies, and to protest them lawfully,” the company wrote in an emailed statement. “However, it is disappointing that some of our associates have chosen to strike over a return to office policy that has been communicated to them repeatedly since December 2021. Associates working on this project accepted their employment with the understanding that they were accepting in-office positions, and that the team would work together at a physical location based in Austin.”
Two weeks ago, the company laid off 12,000 people, or 6% of its global workforce — despite this reduction in headcount, on Thursday, Alphabet announced in its quarterly earnings report that it made $13.6 billion in profit. As Alphabet delivered its results, about 50 employees protested the recent layoffs outside a nearby Google store.
Another set of Google workers, a group of “search raters” — who train, test and evaluate search algorithms — held an action at Google headquarters on February 1. Alphabet has stated that all members of its extended workforce in the U.S. should be paid $15 per hour or more, plus other benefits like healthcare, tax free tuition reimbursement and employee assistance programs. But search raters say they “earn poverty wages, with no benefits.” The group delivered a petition to senior vice president Prabhakar Raghavan at Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters, calling on leadership to include these workers in Alphabet’s extended workforce.
Google did not respond to request for comment.
Update, 2/4/23, 9:45 AM ET with comment from Cognizant.