YouTube Music contractors say their office is promoting anti-union messages on TVs ahead of the union election
The contracting firm Cognizant is pushing back as YouTube Music contractors begin union elections.
The union shared photos on Twitter showing talking points being displayed on office TVs.
Union members have been on strike to protest a return-to-office mandate, among other issues.
In November, the contracting firm Cognizant informed its workers for YouTube Music that they could no longer work from home — a move workers say is being used to weaken union organizing.
Now contractors say they're working in an office building that is partially under construction, where they're subject to toxic fumes and anti-union talking points displayed on TVs.
In October, YouTube Music contractors announced their plans to unionize with the Alphabet Workers Union, which represents more than 1,200 full-time Googlers and contractors, who do work for the company through outsourcing firms. The YouTube Music contractors will hold a union election on Wednesday.
In one photo shared on Twitter by the Alphabet Workers Union, a TV screen displays a message suggesting to workers that the union does not have workers' best interests in mind and that direct dialogue with the company would result in better outcomes for staff. The slideshow of anti-union messaging began appearing around the office on March 17, Sam Regan, a worker at YouTube Music and member of the AWU, said.
Another slide displayed on TVs suggested that workers ask the union specific questions before deciding whether to vote in favor of bargaining, such as, "Am I prepared to have the terms and conditions of my employment locked in by a contract for a set number of years?"
Regan also shared photos with Insider that showed Cognizant's building under significant construction. In one instance, construction workers told Cognizant staff to hold their breath while they walked through areas where the workers were in the process of sanding, two contractors said. Regan said Cognizant's decision to have workers return to the office seemed like a union-busting move since the office wasn't even finished with construction.
Cognizant required YouTube Music contractors to work from its Austin, Texas, office starting February 6. Workers say this meant they had to move to Austin or accept a voluntary resignation, as many staffers were hired as remote workers and not in the Austin area. Contractors moved to organize, in part, to negotiate for a guaranteed work-from-home policy, as well as better pay.
A Cognizant spokesperson said after publication that it had repeatedly communicated its return to office policy since December 2021, that workers accepted their employment with the understanding they were in-office positions, and that they have the option to pursue alternate jobs with the firm. The spokesperson also said there have been "no findings of health issues, air issues, or safety issues" in the office.
"Cognizant supports its employees' right to choose whether to be represented by a union," a Cognizant spokesperson said in a statement to Insider after publication. "We do not believe that union representation is in the best interests of our employees and their families, and we do not believe it is needed given how we work to ensure their voices are heard. It is important to us that our employees have the information necessary to make this important choice, and we are leveraging standard office communications channels to help ensure information is readily available. We have been communicating on the matter since well before this week."
Members of the union recently returned to Cognizant's office following weeks of striking because "strike pay only goes so far," Regan said. Cognizant has been hiring new staff to replace striking workers, the AWU has said.
YouTube Music contractors are voting on unionization
After the union election Wednesday, the National Labor Relations Board will hold a vote count on April 26 to determine whether a majority of YouTube Music workers voted in favor of collective bargaining.
The vote on whether to officially join the AWU is notable because the NLRB ruled this month that Cognizant and Google were joint employers. If the election results in recognizing union representation for YouTube Music contractors, it will mean that Google must negotiate directly with the AWU on issues like contractors' pay and benefits. Google has vowed to appeal this decision, saying that Cognizant was the contractors' sole employer.
"As we made clear in our appeal to the NLRB, we are not the employer of these Cognizant workers and do not control their employment terms or working conditions," a Google spokesperson said in a statement. "We, of course, respect their right to vote to join a union or not but this is a matter between the workers and their employer, Cognizant."
The AWU previously alleged that Cognizant's move to order workers back to the office was a violation of NLRB rules that prohibit employers from significantly modifying the terms of an employee's job requirements during a union drive. Cognizant, for its part, previously said workers were always given the expectation they would have to return eventually.
While interest in unionization has been on the rise, the percentage of US workers represented by a union has been declining, reaching a record low of 10.1% last year. It's possible the tide may turn in tech, as 2023 began with mass layoffs across the industry. Google started laying off 12,000 workers in January.
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March 22, 2023: This story has been updated to include comments from a Cognizant spokesperson after publication.
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