Google Contractors Vote to Unionize Given Company's Track Record of Crappy Treatment

Photo: Alastair Grant (AP)

Contractors working at Google’s Pittsburgh office recently announced they’re aiming to unionize, marking the latest contingent of employees to begin pushing back against Silicon Valley for a voice at the bargaining table.

Of the 90 data analysts and tech workers employed at HLC America, a contracting agency Google uses, roughly two-thirds of eligible employees voted to move forward with unionization efforts, per an announcement from the United Steelworkers union Thursday. The employees are part of the Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals, a project sponsored in part by the traditionally blue-collar steelworkers union. The results of this vote are now off in a petition to the National Labor Relations Board, which will organize a formal union vote pending verification.

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“Workers at HCL deserve far more than they have received in terms of compensation, transparency and consideration, and it has gone on like this for much too long,” said HCL employee Renata Nelson per the statement. “While on-site management tries to do what they can, where they can, their hands are often tied by arbitrary corporate policy.”

HCL employees “work side-by-side with those of the giant corporation for far less compensation and few, if any, of the perks,” according to the press release. They’ve been called Google’s “shadow workforce”: a contingent of temps, vendors, and contractors that, by some estimates, make up half of Google’s total employees. Despite this, this group’s only recently been able to secure basic benefits and a $15 per hour minimum wage, and many of the employees who fought for these improvements will never get to enjoy them.

That’s because Google purportedly limits contract employees to a maximum two-year stint at the company, and most of these benefits don’t go into effect until at least 2020. The tech giant has also landed in hot water for how much it pays these workers. Recode looked into self-reported salary information on Glassdoor, and found Google contractors typically made 42 percent less than their full-time counterparts. That’s an average of roughly $38,000 per year.

And while Google promised to review its sexual harassment and assault reporting process after a mass employee walk-out last November, Google’s contract workers apparently aren’t seeing any of these improvements. According to several contractors Gizmodo spoke with, these contractors feel more vulnerable than their full-time counterparts because of their separate and confusing process for reporting harassment, one that Google doesn’t appear to plans to change any time soon.

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There have been so many damning reports about how Google treats its contract workers, U.S. senators have even called the company out.

Google declined Gizmodo’s request for comment on these union efforts, and the United Steelworkers union hasn’t heard from the tech giant at all throughout this process, the group’s assistant director of organizing, Mariana Padias, told Gizmodo via email. Provided everything goes smoothly with the National Labor Relations Board’s review, generally workers can expect the board to schedule an official election date within 21 days of the petition’s filing, Padias said. To pass, this formal union vote only requires a simple majority.

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These recent unionization efforts come shortly after similar initiatives among Uber and Lyft drivers, who staged a strike alongside international protests to advocate for improved working conditions in May. Earlier today, California’s state legislators voted to move forward on a bill that would force gig economy giants to reclassify their contractors as employees despite companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash pledging $90 million to fight the measure. The bill, AB5, will likely be up for a full state Senate vote next month.

Updated 8/31/2019, 11:45 a.m. with the United Steelworkers union’s statement.

Updated 8/31/2019, 12:29 p.m. with Google’s response.

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About the author

Alyse Stanley

Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance video game reporter. Full-time disaster bi.