FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, February 3, 2023 11:30AM CST
Press contact: [email protected]
(Austin, Texas)—Today, Friday, February 3, 2023 at 8AM CST, over 40 YouTube Music workers with Cognizant, a subcontractor of Alphabet, began a historic Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) strike. Workers are demanding that Cognizant and Google management meet with workers to establish a new Return To Office (RTO) policy that is fair, flexible, and does not threaten the safety and livelihoods of workers. Currently, workers are being forced to return to office on February 6, 2023. Workers are paid as little as $19 dollars an hour and thus, cannot afford the relocation, travel or childcare costs associated with in person work. A majority of workers were hired remotely and nearly a quarter of workers are not based in Texas. The upcoming return to office date threatens the livelihoods of workers who do not live in the Austin area. Additionally, the forced RTO hinders the ongoing unionization effort of these workers. Workers are members of Alphabet Workers Union-CWA and filed for NLRB recognition on October 21, 2022. This is the first strike ever for Alphabet Workers Union-CWA (AWU-CWA) members.
“As a music generalist for Youtube Music I’m responsible for ensuring that populars artists from around the world are presented and represented on the YTM platform, as well as enabling up and coming artists to chart on the platform. I joined the strike to support my fellow coworkers, especially those who don’t even live in Texas. No workers should be paid so little that they cannot afford to go back to work in the office, and no worker should be forced to return to the office when it is clear we can effectively accomplish our work from home. As workers who are critical to the billions of dollars of revenue YouTube Music makes every year, the current threat RTO poses to our livelihoods and unionization efforts are unacceptable. We demand that Alphabet and Cognizant meet directly with workers so we can collectively negotiate Return to Office expectations,” said Neil Gossell, a YouTube Music contractor with Cognizant and an AWU-CWA member.
The striking workers are key personnel behind YouTube Music. As a part of the YouTube Music Content Operations team, workers ensure music content is available and approved for YouTube’s 2.1 billion monthly active users worldwide. As Alphabet contract workers, their labor is critical to YouTube’s success. However, compared to Google’s full-time employees, these critical workers receive worse pay, inferior benefits, bad management, and arbitrary policies. The forced RTO is the last straw.
Last week, Alphabet Workers Union-CWA filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against Alphabet and Cognizant on Tuesday, January 23, 2023. The charge detailed how the push to return to office is an attempt to derail the upcoming union election.
Separately, workers are awaiting an NLRB ruling that would recognize both Alphabet and Cognizant as joint employers and force both companies to the negotiating table. The anticipated ruling would ensure thousands of subcontracted workers across the tech industry would finally be able to hold major corporations accountable to their obligations towards workers.
“When I got this job I was really excited because it was for a big name ‘YouTube’ and ‘Google.’ I was also excited that I could do something with my music degree that didn’t involve teaching, which I didn’t know was possible. I was also happy to be working remotely due to the safety and flexibility, and the opportunity to be able to take care of my own health and family. Returning to the office would also take a huge toll on my family. I recently took the responsibility of caring for my mother. She’s being tested for Alzheimers and dementia, and she needs 24 hour supervision. I am also carrying my first child, and I can’t imagine spending eleven hours away from my newborn, if we are forced to go back into the office. I decided to go on strike because it’s important to show solidarity and support my fellow coworkers, and to say that we deserve better! The work we put in for these artists is really important, and we need to be valued as such,” said Rudie Lynn Bustamante, a YouTube Music contractor with Cognizant and an AWU-CWA member.
Workers were joined by allies with the Texas AFL-CIO.
“The Texas AFL-CIO is an organization of over 240,000 Texans, teachers, construction workers and others who do all the work in this state. Thank you for showing us that it is possible for the world to be a better place. You are sitting, doing your work, when some billionaire, with a stroke of a pen, decides that all of your lives are going to be turned around, and you will have no voice. You are not alone. There are so many people who also don’t have a voice at work. That is why, when you stand up for yourself and demand to have a voice and be treated with respect we will stand with you. One day longer, one day stronger,” said Rick Levy, President of the TX AFL-CIO.
The strike concludes a week of actions by AWU-CWA members, following Google’s decision to layoff 12,000 employees on January 20, 2023. On Wednesday, February 1, Google raters delivered a petition to Google headquarters in Mountain View, CA demanding that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, meet with workers to negotiate fair working conditions. Raters rate the quality of Google search and ad results, yet are exempt from Google’s own minimum standard of benefits for members of its “extended workforce.” Yesterday in New York City, Google workers held an action in response to the 2022 Q4 Google Earnings call and recent layoffs.
AWU-CWA had previously supported another group of Alphabet contract workers with Cognizant in successfully pushing back RTO. On Thursday, June 2, 2022, Google Maps contract workers with Cognizant, based in the Google office in Bothell, WA, informed management that they planned to go on strike due to the unsafe working conditions imposed by the June 6 RTO date. Shortly after, workers received an email that “Cognizant has been granted a 90-day extension on our return to office date.” This was a historic victory for Google temporary, vendor and contract workers and for AWU-CWA which had been closely supporting their members’ organizing efforts in order to secure all workers the flexible, safe, and fair working conditions they deserve.
“As a member of AWU-CWA I am proud to support my fellow AWU-CWA members in their historic ULP strike. Alphabet has consistently shown the type of employer they are—they will lay off 12,000 workers on a whim, and also force contract workers to return to office, even if it threatens their jobs. We are proud to be supporting our members in AWU-CWA’s first ever strike, and demand that Alphabet and Cognizant end their RTO expectations and meet directly with workers to negotiate fair working conditions,” said Elliot Persico, Google Software Engineer and member of AWU-CWA.
A strike fund has been set up to offer additional support to striking YouTube Music workers.