Group of Google contractors who work on Search and Bard win union vote

Technology

Workers stand outside the Google offices after walking out as part of a global protest over workplace issues, in London, Britain, November 1, 2018. 
Toby Melville | Reuters

A group of Google contractors, some of whom have worked on search and Google’s AI chatbot Bard, have successfully voted to unionize.

The group, from Google contractor Accenture, filed for unionization efforts in June after claiming Google asked them to help train the generative AI answers offered in search and Bard, and that they felt under-prepared for their work. The tasks included handling “obscene and graphic” content, according to Bloomberg reports.  

Following the filing for unionization, the group, which included 120 writers, graphic designers and coordinators, among others, were told that more than half of the team would be laid off, according to the Alphabet Workers Union, which alleged the layoffs were an act of retaliation.

The Alphabet Workers Union teamed up with the Communications Workers of America in 2021 as a minority union.

In June, the AWU-CA asked the U.S. National Labor Relations Board to recognize Alphabet as a “joint employer” to their contractor Accenture, meaning the search giant would be held liable for workers’ treatment. As a part of this week’s ruling, Regional Director of Region 20-San Francisco found that the two organizations are joint employers, and both have the duty to bargain over terms and conditions of employment, according to an NLRB spokesperson.

Workers in the group voted for union representation 26-2 Monday night, the NLRB confirmed.

Google said it believes the NLRB’s decision to classify it as a joint employer with Accenture is incorrect, and it has appealed to reverse the decision. 

“We have no objection to these Accenture workers electing to form a union,” said Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini in a statement to CNBC. “We’ve long had many contracts with unionized suppliers. However, as we made clear in our active appeal to the NLRB, we are not a joint employer as we simply do not control their employment terms or working conditions – this matter is between the workers and their employer, Accenture.”

Jen Hill,  a designer on Google’s support staff Google Help and member of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, called it a victory and said the group looks forward to meeting Google at the bargaining table.

“Today’s victory proves what’s possible: when workers stand together, even Google cannot stand in our way,” Hill said in a statement. “We organized so that we could have a say in our working conditions. In response, Google has tried to skirt its responsibility to us as our employer, while also laying off dozens of our team members. It is unjust that our jobs are being shipped off to workers who will be paid even less than us, and will have access to even fewer labor protections.”

The decision marks the second ruling to classify Google as a joint employer with its contractor for a subset of employees. In April, the NLRB announced that it found members of the YouTube Content Operations Team to be jointly employed by both Google and Cognizant Technology Solutions. Alphabet appealed the NLRB’s decision in that case as well.

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