Google Contractor Promotes Anti-Union Messaging Before Union Election

  • Contracting firm Cognizant is pushing back as contractors for YouTube Music begin union elections.
  • The union shared photos on Twitter that show talking points being displayed on office TVs.
  • Union members have been on strike to protest a return-to-office mandate, among other issues. 

Last November, the contracting firm Cognizant informed its workers for YouTube Music that they could no longer work from home – a move workers say is being used to weaken union organizing. Now, contractors say they’re working in an office building that is partially under construction, where they’re subject to toxic fumes and seeing anti-union talking points being displayed on TVs.

In October, YouTube Music contractors announced their plans to unionize with the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), which represents more than 1,200 full-time Googlers and contractors doing work for the company through outsourcing firms. The YouTube Music contractors will hold a union election on Wednesday.

In one photo shared on Twitter by the Alphabet Workers Union, a TV screen displayed a message suggesting to workers that the union does not have workers’ best interests in mind and that direct dialogue with the company would result in better outcomes for staff. The slideshow of anti-union messaging began appearing around the office starting March 17, says Sam Regan, a worker at YouTube Music and member of the AWU.

Photo of a woman sitting on a desk in an office cubicle. Window in background.

Cognizant’s talking points regarding the union drive are displayed on TVs surrounding workers’ cubicles.

Sam Regan

Another slide displayed on TVs suggested that workers ask the union particular questions before deciding whether to vote in favor of bargaining, such as “Am I prepared to have the terms and conditions of my employment locked in by a contract for a set number of years?” 

Regan also shared photos with Insider that show Cognizant’s building is currently under significant construction. In one instance, construction workers told Cognizant staff to hold their breath while they walked through areas where the workers were in the process of sanding, two contractors said. Regan believes that Cognizant’s decision to have workers return to the office was a union busting move since the office isn’t even completely finished with construction.

Photo inside an office partly under construction. Woman to the left walking inside.

The Cognizant office in Austin, Texas remains under construction as staffers were asked to return.

Sam Regan

Cognizant required YouTube Music contractors to work from its Austin office starting February 6. This meant workers must move to Austin or accept a voluntary resignation, as many staff were hired as remote workers and not based in the Austin area. Contractors moved to organize in part to negotiate for a guaranteed work from home policy, as well as better pay. 

About 18 of the 51 members of the union recently returned to Cognizant’s office following weeks of striking because “strike pay only goes so far,” Regan said. Cognizant has already been hiring new staff to replace striking workers, according to the AWU

YouTube Music contractors are voting to unionize

After the union election on Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board will hold a vote count on April 26 to determine whether a majority of YouTube Music workers voted in favor of collective bargaining. 

The vote on whether or not to officially join the AWU is notable because the NLRB ruled in early March that Cognizant and Google are joint employers. If the election results in recognizing union representation for YouTube Music contractors, it would mean that Google must negotiate directly with the AWU on issues like contractors’ pay and benefits. Google has vowed to appeal this decision, saying that Cognizant is the contractors’ sole employer.

“As we made clear in our appeal to the NLRB, we are not the employer of these Cognizant workers and do not control their employment terms or working conditions. We, of course, respect their right to vote to join a union or not but this is a matter between the workers and their employer, Cognizant,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. Cognizant did not respond to a request for comment.

The AWU previously alleged that Cognizant’s move to order workers back to the office is a violation of NLRB rules that prohibit employers from significantly modifying the terms of an employee’s job requirements during a union drive. Cognizant, for its part, previously said that workers were always given the expectation they would have to return eventually. 

Photo inside an office building under construction. Workers stand in the distance, cables strewn about on the ground.

Cognizant’s office in Austin is partially construction with the kitchen and an on-site gym not yet completed.

Sam Regan

Although interest in unionization has been on the rise, the percentage of U.S. workers represented by a union has been declining, reaching a record low of 10.1% in 2022. It’s possible the tide may turn in tech, as 2023 began with mass layoffs across the industry. Google started laying off 12,000 workers in January.

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