YouTube Music workers in the Austin, TX area who voted to unionize are striking. The Alphabet Works Union-CWA (AWU-CWA), which represents the contractors, says this is the first time a group of Google-affiliated workers has gone on strike.
Cognizant, an Alphabet subcontractor, staffs the (more than 40) striking workers. They say Alphabet’s current return-to-office date of February 6th threatens their safety and livelihoods since their $19-per-hour pay makes it hard to afford relocation, travel and healthcare costs. The AWU-CWA says most contractors were hired to work remotely, and nearly a quarter of them don’t live in Texas.
The YouTube workers say Alphabet and Cognizant only announced the abrupt return to office after they had already voted to unionize. In a statement, however, Cognizant said that these return-to-office plans have been in place and communicated since December of 2021, well over a year ago.
Additionally, they accuse managers of sending work to other offices to “chill” the union efforts while adding that a supervisor made implicit anti-union threats. Finally, the workers have appealed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to be recognized as “jointly employed” by Cognizant and Alphabet; the designation would force Alphabet to negotiate based on US labor laws.
"The layoffs showed we are just entries in a spreadsheet to Google executives. This isn't the Google I thought I joined. This strike is what I joined Google for. Thank you." - Google software engineer spoke out in support of striking workers #YouTubeStrike
— Alphabet Workers Union (AWU-CWA) (@AlphabetWorkers) February 3, 2023
Cognizant provided Engadget with the following statement: “Cognizant respects the right of our associates to disagree with our policies, and to protest them lawfully. However, it is disappointing that some of our associates have chosen to strike over a return to office policy that has been communicated to them repeatedly since December 2021. Associates working on this project accepted their employment with the understanding that they were accepting in-office positions, and that the team would work together at a physical location based in Austin.”
Although it wasn’t a labor strike, 20,000 Google workers from 50 offices participated in a 2018 walkout. That movement was in response to the company’s practice of rewarding executives accused of misconduct.
The YouTube Music strike began at noon EST today outside of the Austin Google Office. If you live elsewhere, you can check in on a livestream of the strike on Facebook.
Update, 2/3/23 4:15PM ET: This story has been updated to include a statement from Cognizant noting that it has communicated return-to-office plans since December of 2021.