Google must bargain with YouTube worker union, US labor board rules

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) -Alphabet Inc’s Google violated U.S. labor law by refusing to bargain with a union representing contract workers for YouTube Music, a federal agency has ruled.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a decision on Wednesday rejected claims by Google, which owns YouTube, that it should not be considered the employer of workers provided by staffing firm Cognizant Technology Solutions.

The group of YouTube Music content operation workers voted 41-0 last April to join the Alphabet Workers Union, which was formed three years ago to organize the company’s employees.

The labor board in July upheld the election results, rejecting Google’s claim that it did not have enough control over the workers to be considered a so-called “joint employer” that must bargain with their union.

Employers cannot appeal decisions in election cases, so Google refused to bargain in order to get the case back before the NLRB.

The NLRB on Wednesday said the company had not raised any new issues warranting review.

Google in a statement said it would ask a federal appeals court to review the ruling.

“As we’ve said before, we have no objection to these Cognizant employees selecting to form a union. We simply believe it’s only appropriate for Cognizant, as their employer, to engage in collective bargaining,” the company said.

Katie-Marie Marschner, a YouTube Music worker and member of the union, said in a statement that Google and Cognizant have made various changes to working conditions without bargaining, including requiring workers to return to the office and removing sick pay.

“Any future appeals by Alphabet are just an attempt to avoid collectively bargaining with the union and pad the pockets of shareholders and executives,” she said.

Google has faced an uptick in labor organizing in the United States and abroad in recent years, including a series of worker protests over the company’s business and employment policies.

In November, a group of about 120 employees of Google contractor Accenture who work on artificial intelligence applications voted to unionize. Google claims it is not the workers’ joint employer and is challenging the results of that election.

The standard for determining when businesses are joint employers of contract and franchise workers has been in flux since the Obama administration. An NLRB rule that takes effect in February and is being challenged by major business groups says companies are joint employers even when their control over working conditions is indirect.

In Google’s case, the board applied a rule on joint employment adopted during former President Donald Trump’s administration that says businesses have to exercise direct control over workers in order to be required to bargain with unions. The NLRB said Google directly supervises workers provided by Cognizant and has control over their hours and benefits.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Tomasz Janowski and David Gregorio)