Outsourcing firm Cognizant backs down as YouTube Music artists begin union elections.
The union shared pictures on Twitter that showed talking points displayed on office TVs.
Union members went on strike to protest the back-to-work mandate, among other issues.
Last November, contracting firm Cognizant informed its YouTube Music workers that they could no longer work from home, a move workers say is being used to weaken union organizing. Now, contractors say they are working in an office building that is partially under construction, where they are exposed to toxic fumes and see anti-union talk being shown on televisions.
In October, YouTube Music artists announced plans to unionize with the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), which represents more than 1,200 Google employees and full-time artists working for the company through outsourcing firms. YouTube Music artists will hold union elections on Wednesday.
In one photo shared on Twitter by the Alphabet Workers Union, a message was shown on a television screen suggesting to workers that the union did not have workers’ best interests at heart and that direct dialogue with the company would lead to better outcomes for staff. The slideshow of anti-union messages started appearing in the office on March 17, says Sam Regan, a YouTube Music employee and AWU member.
Another slide shown on TVs suggests workers ask specific questions of the union before deciding whether to vote in favor of bargaining, such as “Am I willing to have the terms of my job locked into a contract for a certain number of years? “
Regan also shared photos with Insider that show the Cognizant building is currently undergoing significant construction. In one instance, construction workers told Cognizant employees to hold their breath as they walked through areas where workers were in the process of sanding, two contractors said. Regan believes Cognizant’s decision to bring workers back to the office is union-busting because the office isn’t even fully finished with construction.
Cognizant requires YouTube Music artists to work out of its Austin office starting February 6. That meant workers had to relocate to Austin or accept voluntary layoffs, as many employees were hired as telecommuters and not based in the Austin area. Contractors began organizing in part to negotiate a guaranteed work-from-home policy as well as better pay.
About 18 of the union’s 51 members recently returned to the Cognizant office after weeks on strike because “strike pay only goes so far,” Regan said. Cognizant has already hired new staff to replace the striking workers, according to GRES.
YouTube Music artists vote to unite
After Wednesday’s union election, the National Labor Relations Board will conduct a vote count on April 26 to determine whether a majority of YouTube Music employees voted in favor of collective bargaining.
The vote on whether to formally join the AWU is notable because the NLRB ruled in early March that Cognizant and Google are joint employers. If the election results in the recognition of union representation for YouTube Music artists, it would mean that Google would have to negotiate directly with the AWU on issues such as artist pay and benefits. Google has vowed to appeal the decision, saying Cognizant is the contractors’ sole employer.
“As we made clear in our filing with the NLRB, we are not the employer of these Cognizant workers and do not control their terms of employment or employment. We of course respect their right to vote whether or not to join a union, but that is a matter between the workers and their employer, Cognizant,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. Cognizant did not respond to a request for comment.
The AWU previously argued that Cognizant’s move to order workers back to the office violated NLRB rules that prohibit employers from significantly changing the terms of an employee’s job requirements during a union strike. Cognizant, for its part, previously said workers were always expected to have to return eventually.
Although interest in unions is growing, the percentage of US workers represented by unions is falling, hitting a record low of 10.1% in 2022. The tide may turn in tech as 2023 begins with mass layoffs worldwide industry. Google began cutting 12,000 jobs in January.
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