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YouTube Music contractors won a historic union election, which means Google could have to negotiate with a labor group for the first time

YouTube Music and Cognizant workers strike outside Google's office in Austin, Texas.YouTube Music and Cognizant workers strike outside Google’s office in Austin, Texas.

SUZANNE CORDEIRO/ Getty Images

  • Contact workers who support YouTube Music won their union election 41-0. 
  • The workers are employed by Cognizant, but the NLRB has ruled Google is a joint employer.
  • If the NLRB decision is upheld, Google will have to bargain with the union in good faith. 

Contract workers who support YouTube Music have won their union election and will now prepare to bargain for a labor contract.

The official vote was held on Wednesday by the National Labor Relations Board. Out of 49 eligible workers, all 41 who submitted ballots voted “yes” in favor of union representation. The workers, who are employed by outsourcing firm Cognizant, will be represented by the Alphabet Workers Union, which has sought to organize Google workers and demand better working conditions. 

The vote is historic because it could represent the first time the tech giant must negotiate directly with a labor group. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has been adamant that these YouTube Music contractors are employed by Cognizant, and therefore Cognizant alone is responsible for their working conditions.

The NLRB recently ruled, however, that Alphabet should be designated as a “joint employer,” meaning it would be responsible for workers, alongside Cognizant. Alphabet is currently appealing the decision. 

Alphabet and Cognizant have until May 3 to file objections to the election. If no objections are filed, the result will be certified, and the companies will have to begin bargaining in good faith with the union. 

Alphabet reiterated its stance on contract workers in a statement following the election.

“We have no objection to these Cognizant workers electing to form a union,” an Alphabet spokesperson said. “We’ve long had many contracts with unionized suppliers. However, as we made clear in our active appeal to the NLRB, we are not a joint employer as we simply do not control their employment terms or working conditions – this matter is between the workers and their employer, Cognizant.”

For its part, Cognizant wrote in an email, “The National Labor Relations Board has informed us that a majority of Cognizant associates voted in support of unionizing. Our philosophy remains that we are better together through open dialogue and collaboration. We are committed to continuing our mission as a team and delivering for our client.

YouTube Music contractors say that Cognizant displayed messaging on TV screens around its Austin, Texas offices that discouraged organizing in favor of direct communication with the company. In an internal memo, it told workers that even if the union efforts were successful, workers would not receive the same compensation or benefits as those employed directly by Google, Insider previously reported. It also said that should the joint employer decision be upheld, Google would only have minimal involvement in bargaining. 

The Alphabet Workers Union launched in 2021 and represents both full-time workers employed directly by Google as well as its large contract workforce. 

In recent years, Alphabet has employed hundreds of thousands of contractors. Tech companies rely on contractors as these workforces can be scaled up and down as needed, and they are not entitled to the same promised benefits of full-time employees. Contractors for Google have long complained they feel they are treated as second-class citizens, despite contributing meaningfully to the company’s business.

Contractors perform tasks from rating search result quality to updating YouTube Music playlists. More recently, they have been helping to improve the output of Google’s AI chatbot, Insider previously reported. 

Some Google contractors can command high salaries, while many — like those at Cognizant — make as little as $19 an hour. The YouTube Music contractors initially began organizing to seek a guaranteed work-from-home policy, saying that it’s too expensive to live in Austin on the wages offered. Some live far from its offices and said they could not afford to relocate. 

Support for unions has risen in the US in recent years, but representation remains at about 10% of the total workforce. Workers at companies including Apple, Wells Fargo, and Starbucks have recently attempted to organize and push for better labor conditions. 

Got a tip? This reporter can be reached via email at tmaxwell@insider.com, Signal at 540.955.7134, or Twitter at @tomaxwell.

Read the original article on Business Insider
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