September 26, 2019
In Pittsburgh, a group of about 80 HCL Technologies contractors working at Google has voted to unionize with the United Steelworkers. Although the group represents only a small number of the many contractors employed by Google, it represents one of the first groups of tech workers to unionize in the U.S., according to United Steelworkers. At Google’s Bakery Square offices, contractors work side-by-side full-time Google employees but are paid less and receive fewer benefits, leading to the push to organize.
Wired reports, “Google’s dependence on contractors, temporary employees, and outside vendors has long been a source of controversy,” especially since the company’s “so-called shadow workforce outnumbers full-time employees.”
Google employees have called attention to the disparity, with a November walkout and, in April, a petition signed by 900 Google employees “in support of contractors who worked on Google Assistant and were let go.” A year ago in August, 3,000+ security guards working for tech companies including Facebook and Google “ratified their first union contract after raising similar issues.”
The union organizing began on August 29 when the Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals, an affiliate of the United Steelworkers, “filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board … for a vote to be held on the effort.” More than two-thirds of the HCL workers — most of who work as analysts on Google Shopping — signed cards indicating they wanted to unionize with the United Steelworkers, which represents 850,000 workers.
“We deserve more respect, dignity and democracy in our relationship with our employer,” said HCL employee Joshua Borden. “We fought for a seat at the table, and today we won. We look forward to bargaining a contract that reflects our important contributions to HCL’s continuing success.”
Some HCL employees express the fear that, having unionized, Google could “drop HCL for a less expensive contracting firm.” Google workers reportedly circulated an internal petition asking “the company to condemn anti-union efforts by HCL and commit to keep their contract with the company regardless of the vote’s results.”
According to Google spokesperson Jenn Kaiser, the company works with “lots of partners, many of which have unionized workforces, and many of which don’t.” “As with all our partners, whether HCL’s employees unionize or not is between them and their employer,” she said.