Mar 6, 2023 - Technology

NLRB says Google is an employer of YouTube contractors


Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A National Labor Relations Board official has ruled that Google parent Alphabet should be recognized as an employer of certain YouTube contractors.

Why it matters: The ruling, if upheld, means that Google would need to negotiate with workers there, should they vote to approve a union.

In a 15-page ruling, NLRB regional director Timothy Watson found that Alphabet and contract employment firm Cognizant are the YouTube Music workers' joint employer.

  • He also ruled that the workers constitute a potential bargaining unit and that a vote should be held to determine if they wish to joint the Alphabet Workers Union, which is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America.

Assuming it is upheld, the decision is a big win for the Alphabet Workers Union, which has generally served not as an official bargaining union for Google workers, but rather as a minority union.

  • Google, which has vowed to appeal, has maintained that employment agency Cognizant is the workers' sole employer.

Between the lines: As Axios first reported, a group of the Cognizant employees went on strike last month, protesting the requirement that they work from an office in Texas.

The big picture: This case highlights two big issues in tech labor relations: a growing unionization push as well as the longstanding role of temporary workers and contractors at large tech companies as a shadow workforce along side full-time employees.

What they're saying:

  • Cognizant: "We are reviewing the decision by the NLRB Regional Director, but disagree with the finding."
  • Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini says that Google strongly disagrees with the decision and will appeal. "We are confident the facts and law clearly support our position. We simply don't control these workers' employment terms or working conditions."
  • YouTube Music contract worker Sam Regan: "We are proud to win a precedent setting victory not just for ourselves, but also for workers across the country, where technology companies in particular have innovated new ways to deny responsibility for their workers' livelihoods through subcontracting, gig work, and other poor employment practices."
  • Google engineer and Alphabet Workers Union executive chair Parul Koul: "Alphabet employs more subcontractors than direct employees. This employment model allows them to profit billions every quarter while denying responsibility for tens of thousands of workers who are integral to that income."

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove an inaccurate description of the Texas Cognizant strike as "one-day."

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