April 18, 2024

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YouTube lays off 43 unionized Google contractors as they appeal to city council

A YouTube contractor was addressing the Austin City Council on Thursday, calling on them to get Google to negotiate with his union, when a colleague interrupted him with startling news: All members of the 43-person contractor team had been laid off.

“I was speechless, shocked. I didn't know what to do,” YouTube data analyst Jack Benedict, who was addressing the city council, told The Washington Post. “But anger, that was the main feeling.”

The council meeting was broadcast live online and has since gone viral on social media. Contractors viewed the layoffs as retaliation for unionizing, but Google and IT subcontractor Cognizant said it was the natural end to the labor contract. The ability for layoffs to spread across social media highlights how the traumatic experience of job loss is frequently publicized, from employees sharing Zoom meeting recordings to posting about unemployment.

The growing tension between YouTube and Google contractors comes as mass layoffs continue to hit the tech industry — leaving workers uneasy and companies emboldened. Google has already made rounds of cuts over the past couple of years.

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Google has been in a long-running battle with many of its contractors as they seek the perks and high wages that full-time Google employees are accustomed to. The company has tens of thousands of contractors who do everything from food service to sales to writing code.

YouTube workers, who work for Google and Cognizant, voted unanimously to unionize under the Alphabet-CWA labor union in April 2023. Since then, workers say Google has refused to bargain with them. Thursday's layoffs indicate continued tensions between Google and its workers, some of whom formed a union in 2021.

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Google confirms that Cognizant is responsible for hiring contractors and their working conditions, and therefore is not responsible for negotiating with them. Cognizant said it is offering workers seven weeks of paid time to explore other roles at the company and use its training resources.

Last year, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Cognizant and Google are a joint employer of contractors. In January, the NLRB sent a cease-and-desist letter to employers for failing to bargain with the union. Since then the question of common labor, which would ultimately define any company He is the plea bargainer, and he has reached the Court of Appeal and has not yet been sentenced. The Alphabet Labor Union said Google never negotiated with either of its two bargaining units. Google said it was not responsible for bargaining with the union Of aware workers.

“We have no objection to these employees at Cognizant choosing to form a union,” Google spokeswoman Courtenay Mencini said. “We simply believe it is appropriate for Cognizant, as an employer, to participate in collective bargaining.”

Cognizant did not comment on workers' claim that it refused to bargain with the union, but provided the following statement: “While we respect our associates' right to join a union, our philosophy is that we work best together through open, direct dialogue and collaboration.” said Bill Abelson, a Cognizant spokesman.

The team, which was responsible for ensuring music content was available and approved for YouTube Music's 80 million subscribers, united to fight for better pay and benefits. Workers say they don't get sick pay, receive minimal benefits, and are paid as little as $19 an hour, forcing some to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

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Workers participated in two strikes: a month-long walkout in February 2023 over Cognizant's return-to-office policy, which resulted in about 20 percent of the team leaving, and a one-day walkout in September over Google and Cognizant's policy. Refuse to bargain. After the strikes, workers were asked to train agents in India on how to do their jobs so they could fill them during holidays or if workers went on strike, Benedict said.

Benedict XVI believed that Thursday would be a moment of triumph, as the council was expected to vote in favor of a resolution supporting the workers. Instead, 10 minutes before the meeting, the council told workers that the vote would be postponed, but they would still be allowed to speak. During the speech, the office's staff were called into a meeting and told they no longer had jobs. They sent text messages to workers at the council meeting to inform them.

“I don't think they could have delivered the news at a worse time,” Benedict said. “It looks pretty bad for them.”

Sam Regan, a data analyst contractor at YouTube Music, was in the office when the layoffs happened. He said the mood was suspicious, as security guards joined a short morning meeting that included company leaders “Coldly” Workers reported that their project had been cut short. The workers had about 20 minutes to collect their belongings and leave the building before they were considered trespassing.

Reagan said he was one of the last ones out. As he left, he heard a security guard calling the police non-emergency line to report the intruders.

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“It was really bad,” he said. “It was simply one of the most inhumane experiences of my life.”

The workers say they are shocked but plan to continue the struggle.

“Which [city council video] “The clip is circulating everywhere, and we're seeing a ton of interest,” Benedict said. “We're not going to sit back and let them do that.”