Alphabet union alleges contract workers were silenced about pay

The treatment of subcontracted workers and independent contractors, who in 2018 became the majority of Alphabet’s global workforce, has been another long-running topic of controversy. — Bloomberg

Google contract workers were banned from discussing their pay, and one was suspended for her labour activism, according to a complaint from the Alphabet Workers Union.

In a Thursday filing with the National Labor Relations Board, the union accused the Google vendor Adecco of violating US labour law by trying to silence employees. Management forbid employees at a datacentre in South Carolina from discussing their pay, according to the complaint. The managers also suspended a data technician because of a pro-union Facebook post, according to the union.

The union filed the complaint against Google parent Alphabet Inc, as well as units of Adecco, claiming that the internet giant is a “joint employer” – a company with sufficient control over a group of workers to be legally liable for their treatment. Google and Adecco Group AG did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The technician, Shannon Wait, said in an interview that her Facebook post explained she had joined the union to take on the demeaning treatment of subcontracted staff, such as the refusal to replace lost water bottles. Google’s direct employees are provided new ones when they need them, she said.

Wait said she’s been working full-time throughout the pandemic doing physically taxing tasks to keep servers running that Google relies on. “We are the backbone of Google,” she said. “We are doing the hard work.” The day after she posted her message, she said, she was called into a virtual meeting with management and told that she was being suspended and investigated as a “security risk”.

Wait’s Labor Board complaint is the first filed by the Alphabet Workers Union since the organisation launched publicly last month. AWU, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, has so far signed up around 800 Google employees and contract workers as members.

The group isn’t seeking collective bargaining with Alphabet management, which under US labour laws would be difficult for contract workers to secure. Instead, it plans to use collective action and protests to force changes at the company, which in recent years has been roiled by worker revolts over issues including military contracts and sexual harassment. The treatment of subcontracted workers and independent contractors, who in 2018 became the majority of Alphabet’s global workforce, has been another long-running topic of controversy.

Google software engineer Parul Koul, the union’s executive chair, said Wait’s experience reflects a “massive double standard” between the treatment of Alphabet’s direct employees and the contract staff who work side-by-side with them. “They do have a responsibility to make sure that folks who are doing really mission-critical work for the company are treated fairly,” she said. – Bloomberg

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