Google broke labor laws when it refused to bargain with YouTube Music contract workers

Illustration of a YouTube logo with geometric background

The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Google’s refusal to bargain with a group of unionized YouTube Music contractors is illegal. The three-member panel decided that despite denials by Google, which owns YouTube Music, and its subcontractor Cognizant, the two are, in fact, joint employers of the Austin-based workers who perform data-related tasks, like finding errors in its charts algorithm. 

“At all material times, Respondents Cognizant and Google have codetermined the essential terms and conditions of employment of employees employed at the E. Parmer Lane facility and have been joint employers,” writes the board in its decision (PDF). 

Google’s troubles with its YouTube Music contractors first began last year, after a group of 40 workers hired by Cognizant voted to join the Alphabet Workers Union. Their chief concern was over YouTube Music’s demand that the hourly workers return to their Austin, TX office instead of working remotely. The contractors, who are paid as little as $19 per hour and include many hired remotely, argued that additional expenses for childcare and transportation meant returning to the office simply wasn’t feasible. 

This is a familiar turn of events for Alphabet-owned Google. Back in November, the NLRB issued a similar ruling over a group of Bard and Search contractors who had voted to unionize — classifying both Google and Accenture as joint employers. Google opted then to appeal the NLRB’s decision — and appears to be doing the same today: Bloomberg reports that the company plans to appeal the ruling in federal court. 

A new NLRB rule that took effect in December will make it even harder for companies like Google to argue they aren’t responsible for dealing with unionization efforts by third-party contractors. That replaced a Trump-era rule on joint employers, effectively making it easier for unions to organize contract and franchise workers — much to the chagrin of the major tech companies who have increasingly relied on them. Under the new ruling, a company such as Google or Amazon would be considered a joint employer of contracted workers if they hold control over working conditions such as pay, scheduling, discipline, and other factors. 


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