Google contract workers in Pittsburgh vote to form union

The Guardian Technology 1 month ago

A group of Google contract workers in Pittsburgh voted to unionize on Tuesday, a historic development within the labor movement and a remarkable return to the city’s industrial roots.

About 90 tech workers who are employed by the Indian outsourcing firm HCL America, but work on Google projects at Google’s offices, will form a union with the United Steel Workers (USW), a labor union born in Pittsburgh.

The vote to unionize passed with 49 voting in favor of unionization and 24 voting against. The group of tech workers will organize under the name Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals (PATP).

The newly unionized workers are just a small portion of the temps, vendors and contractors (TVCs) who make up an enormous “shadow” workforce at Google, outnumbering direct Google employees by around 135,000 to 115,000. Contractors who spoke recently with the Guardian have complained of low pay, stingy time off, a lack of responsiveness from management and a constant sense of precariousness.

“There’s no guarantee that from one Monday to the next we will have a job. It feels like being on the edge of a cliff all the time,” said Josh Borden, who has worked for HCL for three and a half years.

Thomas M Conway, the president of USW International, said in a statement that he was “honored that HCL workers chose to join our union and our fight on behalf of all working people. They deserve to have their voices heard. Together, we’ll make sure that they are.”

The union drive began in early 2019 when one HCL contractor, Ben Gwin, contacted the USW to see if the union could help. He was not alone in experiencing frustrations with his employer.

“From the time I was hired until now, me and my colleagues have been asking for certain things, like a couple extra vacation days, a better healthcare plan, more pay sometimes,” another HCL worker, Johanne Rokholt, told the Guardian. “The answer is always, ‘We’re doing as much as we can … You are lucky and you should feel grateful.’ It’s a one-sided conversation and I would like to see it be a dialogue.”

The idea of unionization found fertile ground among workers who were surrounded every day by reminders of how much better Googlers had it than they did. “It’s like there’s a party happening and some people have to watch it and not come in,” one Pittsburgh Googler told the Guardian.

The workers voted in favor of unionizing despite attempts by HCL to prevent it, Vice reports. Emails shared with the news outlet show that HCL America’s deputy general manager of operations sent at least a half-dozen emails to contractors in the two-week period before the vote in an apparent effort to urge employees not to unionize.

“The Steelworkers are typically ‘blue collar’ workers, not workers in a tech industry like us, and the overwhelming majority of the contracts they’ve negotiated are for employees working in industries completely unrelated to ours,” one of the emails reportedly read. “Do you really think the Steelworkers understand our needs, our industry, our business, or even what you do on a daily basis? I don’t.”

That the contracted workers work on Google’s core projects but are not deemed crucial enough to be hired as direct Google employees “exposes the contradiction” in Silicon Valley’s major philanthropic endeavors, Alex Wallach Hanson, an organizer with community group Pittsburgh United, told the Guardian.

“They dedicate all their philanthropy to telling particularly black and brown students that they need to learn to code and then they can achieve what tech workers are getting,” he said. “But they’re not actually creating those pathways [to direct employment].”

In a statement, HCL worker Joshua Borden said the tech workers in Pittsburg “deserve more respect, dignity and democracy in our relationship with our employer”, and that Tuesday’s vote represents a step forward.

“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.”

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