YouTube Music contractors have officially unionized with the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA after winning a historic vote through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Forty-one workers voted yes out of a total of 49 eligible voters; the remaining eight workers did not vote.
This election has meaningful implications for Google beyond YouTube Music. The union earned a big win in March, when the NLRB ruled that Google is an employer of these workers, even though they technically are employed by a contractor called Cognizant. Under this ruling, Google must bargain with the YouTube Music workers to ratify their union contract.
Because most Google workers are contractors with other companies, this could set a precedent for other divisions to organize as well. Google is attempting to challenge this ruling. But if this precedent-setting NLRB ruling holds, then these YouTube Music workers would become the first officially recognized union of tech workers at Google.
In advance of the union vote, 40 workers went on strike in February, alleging that both companies leveraged unfair labor practices to interfere with union organizing.
“Right now, the vast majority of our department is ready to vote yes in a NLRB election,” said YouTube Music generalist Sam Regan at a rally on the first day of the strike. “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.”
The employees felt that this return to office mandate was unfair, since most of them were hired remotely, and about a quarter of them aren’t even based in Texas, where the office is. Cognizant told TechCrunch in February that these workers had been reminded about returning to offices since December 2021, and that these positions were accepted with the knowledge that they would not always be remote.
A representative for the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU-CWA) said that 15 workers who live out of state or cannot go to the office remain on strike, since it protects them from voluntary termination. Other workers returned to the office to help organize new contractors, who had been hired after the strike.
On its quarterly earnings call this week, Alphabet reported a $191 million operating income gain, which is a significant jump from last year’s $706 million loss. Plus, Google Cloud is turning a profit for the first time, earning $7.4 billion this quarter. Despite this, the company laid off 12,000 people in January and is buying back $70 billion in stock. Per CNBC, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai made $226 million in total compensation last year.