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Google Contract Workers Say They Were Fired for Union Talks


Google Vice President Majd Bakar speaks on-stage during the annual Game Developers Conference at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California on March 19, 2019.

Google Vice President Majd Bakar speaks on-stage during the annual Game Developers Conference at Moscone Center in San Francisco, California on March 19, 2019.
Photo: Josh Edelson (Getty Images)

Google contract workers at multiple data centers filed unfair labor practice complaints Thursday against Alphabet for alleged firings in retaliation for union activity. The allegations come within days of a separate National Labor Relations Board complaint accusing Apple of illegally intimidating and discriminating against unionizing employees. Together, the cases highlight the simmering tensions between tech’s budding labor movement and resistant management.

The pair of labor complaints, which were viewed by Gizmodo, accuse Google of terminating two workers at Google’s Council Bluffs data center after they attempted to discuss their pay and working conditions. The complaints, filed by the Alphabet Workers Union, alleged the firings were motivated in part by the workers’ affiliation with the union and that the firing could serve as intimidation to prevent other workers from joining. The AWU, which represents both full-time and contract workers at the company, told Gizmodo they believed this was the first instance of Google firing workers for their participation in the union.

Google did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

The AWU claims an Iowa data center contractor faced intimidation after they suggested a walkout in a private worker chat. The demonstration would have protested the implementation of a newly proposed time clock policy. Management allegedly caught wind of the message, pulled the technician aside and said they were unhappy. That, according to the AWU, amounts to an act of intimidation for suggesting collective action.

“It doesn’t feel good to go to work and feel like I have to look over my shoulder. I want us to be able to express our grievances, whether something small like the time clock or something bigger like better salaries, and know we’ll be taken seriously,” Elissia Cave, a data center technician and AWU member said in a statement. “We shouldn’t have to worry about whether we will lose our job whenever we speak.”

In a separate filing, the AWU claims Google revoked the security clearances of several data center security guards in North and South Carolina after they engaged in a campaign for workplace benefits. Another two workers had their pay docked and did not receive a renewal of their contracts after discussing workplace conditions, the AWU alleges. The workers’ complaints involved disputes over sick pay and parental leave, among other issues. Both Google and the two relevant contractor companies, Modis and Allied Universal, were accused in the complaints.

“Workers deserve to organize and win without being punished for their success,” Heather Smith, an Allied Universal Security said in a statement. “We need greater transparency on the job and clear protections to prevent workers from retaliation at work.”

The recent allegations, according to the AWU, mark the latest in a trend of workplace controversies at Google’s data centers. Last year, Google contract workers in Council Bluffs, Iowa organized against Google after Modis temporarily denied workers pandemic attendance bonuses. Prior to that, the AWU filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Google for allegedly illegally suspending a South Carolina data center contractor after voicing support for a union.

Tech labor tensions are bubbling up outside of the Alphabet ecosystem as well. Earlier this week, Amazon suspended around 50 of its night shift warehouse workers who refused to work the previous day after a cardboard compactor caught fire. Days later, the National Labor Relation Board filed a complaint against Apple claiming the company prohibited retail workers in a New York store from handing out pro-union material in a breakroom. Previous complaints lodged by Communication Workers of America alleged Apple forced its employees to sit through anti-union presentations. Apple retail workers in Maryland voted to form the first union in that company’s history earlier this year. Workers in Oklahoma and New York Apple Stores are considering unionization votes as well.

“Google has refused to provide workers with clear, safe, and protected avenues to raise concerns when these TVC companies fail to do right by their workers, and their legal obligations to Google,” AWU Executive Chair Parul Koul said in a statement.

“The minimum standard of benefits that Google requires is just that—minimum. Google can and must take steps to ensure every worker, including all TVC workers, do not face retaliation on the job for exercising their right to organize.”



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