NLRB ruling opens the door for collective bargaining for contract workers across the entire tech industry
Stranch, Jennings & Garvey member Karla M. Campbell and attorney Michael Iadevaia helped achieve a victory in a recent decision and direction of election against Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, and Alphabet subcontractor Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp., which provides IT consulting and outsourcing services for industries.
YouTube contract workers filed an election petition in October 2022 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking union recognition as members of the Alphabet Workers Union – Communications Workers of America (AWU). AWU organizes and represents both contract and directly employed workers in the Google extended workforce throughout the United States. These YouTube workers, who are based in Austin, Texas, sought union representation to help address their working conditions and pay. Campbell and Iadevaia represent the union.
The YouTube workers, who were hired through Cognizant to support Google’s YouTube Music Content Operations (MCO), asserted that Alphabet and Cognizant were joint employers. Alphabet has repeatedly denied that it employs these workers. However, in a March 3, 2023, decision, Timothy L. Watson, the Fort Worth, Texas-based regional director of NLRB Region 16, disagreed with Alphabet’s claims and ruled in favor of the workers.
“On Oct. 21, 2022, Alphabet Workers Union – Communications Workers of America, filed a representation petition under Section 9(b) of the National Labor Relations Act to represent certain employees of Cognizant and Google, as joint employers,” Watson’s March ruling stated. “I conclude and I find that Cognizant and Google are joint employers and that the petitioned-for unit is an appropriate unit.
“I find that Google exercises direct and immediate control over benefits, hours of work, supervision and direction of work. To a lesser extent, Google also exercises control over unit employees’ wages by setting minimum standards.”
Watson also pointed out that the YouTube workers include full-time and regular part-time senior process executive data/music generalists (SPEs) and project/process specialists/subject matter experts (SMEs) contracted through Cognizant for Google, that Google full-time employees directly supervise the SPEs and SMEs, and it is expected that these workers interact and work with Google employees.
The NLRB ruling also specified that the Board would conduct a secret ballot election among the YouTube MCO workers, who would vote on whether to be represented for the purposes of collective bargaining, and that Alphabet and Cognizant must both negotiate with workers on their union contract if the workers won their NLRB election.
The vote was held on April 26, 2023, and the YouTube MCO voted unanimously to unionize.
“We greatly appreciate that the NLRB has agreed with these workers that they work for Google as well as Cognizant,” Campbell said. “Alphabet has a long history of evading responsibility for contract workers, who provide essential services to the company. Now that the YouTube MCO has voted to unionize, and the NLRB has ruled that both Alphabet and Cognizant must engage in collective bargaining with these workers, we look forward to negotiating a contract with them.
“In addition, the NLRB’s breakthrough ruling will not only favorably impact these YouTube workers. It also opens the door for all Google contract employees and contract workers across the entire tech industry to successfully hold their employers accountable for providing equitable standards for all workers.”