Around 80 Google Help subcontractors who recently voted to unionize with the Alphabet Workers Union-Communications Workers of America (AWU-CWA) found out last week that they will be laid off. The group began a hearing this week with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding the complex issue of joint employment for contractors. “It really stinks of retaliation,” Casey Padron, a general writer on the team scheduled to lose her job in August, told Engadget today.
The group announced the unionization effort on Thursday, June 8th; around two-thirds of the workers were notified weeks later about the layoffs. The team includes writers and graphic designers who create internal and external content for the search giant, including Google Help support pages. They list Google and Accenture as joint employers “due to the direct role both companies play in shaping working conditions.” Because they were joint contractors employed by tech consultancy Accenture, they don’t appear to enjoy protections with the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, legislation passed in 1988 that provides certain rights for laid-off workers. (California is currently considering expanding protections for contract workers.)
“Last week we received news that 80 of our nearly 120 recently unionized Google Help coworkers would be laid off,” said Julia Nagatsu Granstrom, Senior Writer and member of the Alphabet Workers Union- CWA. “We had exercised our right to organize as members of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA in order to bring both Google and Accenture, a Google subcontractor, to the bargaining table to negotiate on several key demands, including layoff protections.” Nagatsu Granstrom describes the layoffs as “absolutely unacceptable,” given the timing of an active union campaign “with overwhelming support from workers.”
The Google Help cuts follow a group of company contractors rating search results who were fired last month after announcing intentions to unionize with the same organization, the AWU-CWA. However, they were reinstated and promised backpay after filing Unfair Labor Practice charges with the NLRB.
Padron says the Google Help layoffs caught her off guard. “I was extremely surprised to hear about our team’s layoffs,” she told Engadget. “We are constantly told by Google and Accenture management how impressed they are with the quality of our work, so the timing of these layoffs looks suspiciously like retaliation for our union formation.” She says the employer’s proclaimed motive of budget tightening doesn’t add up. “They claimed that the cuts were a result of changes in budget allocation, but Accenture has also posted job listings that have our exact job description and project code.”
“These giant, wealthy corporations need to start living up to their own ‘core values’ and treating their workers with the dignity, respect, and humanity we deserve,” Padron added. “If these multi-billion dollar corporations can’t afford to provide humane working conditions to their employees, the business model needs radical change. Some of our operations managers and the Googlers we collaborate with have already expressed that Google’s help centers will suffer without our team. They will feel this loss, and they deserve to.”
Nagatsu Granstrom says the unionized workers will take “every recourse possible to support our impacted members and continue to organize workers at Google Help and beyond.” Padron echoes the upbeat, fighting tone. “If it’s Accenture and Google’s goal to demoralize us, they have failed,” she told Engadget. “We are more united than ever and will continue to fight for this job that so many of us love and rely on.”
Update, July 19th, 2023, 8:40AM ET: Attempting to distance the company from joint employer status, Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini told Engadget, “As we’ve shared, Accenture is responsible for these workers' employment terms, including staffing. We, of course, respect their right to join a union or not, but it’s a matter between the workers and their employer, Accenture.”
Correction, July 19th, 2023, 12:36PM ET: An earlier version of this story's headline attributed the layoffs to Google directly. While acting at Google's behest, the entity directly responsible for these layoffs was Accenture.