US lawmakers express ‘serious concern’ to NLRB about fired Google contractors

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

More than 40 people working on the YouTube Music content operations team were fired in February, about a year after going on strike. On Thursday, 46 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) urging the agency to act quickly on cases filed by the YouTube contractors, who worked on approving music content, against Google.
The letter, signed by Congressional Labor Caucus co-chairs Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Reps. Greg Casar (D-TX), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and 41 other members of Congress, says “we write to express our serious concern regarding alleged retaliation and other coercive actions” taken against the workers.
The letter also notes an incident last year with workers on the team training the Bard AI chatbot, saying, “This is not the first time that Google workers have been fired after attempting to organize their workplace. After Google Content Creation Operations workers took steps to unionize their workplace in June of 2023, Google fired 80 members of the 119 member team.”
The team said many of its workers were paid as little as $19 an hour and could not afford to follow Google’s return-to-office mandate, as going to the office would be expensive. The Alphabet Workers Union-CWA union representing the workers filed several unfair labor practice complaints against the subcontractor Cognizant and Google as joint employers. The NLRB resolved some of these complaints, though 12 cases remain pending.
Google had claimed the decision to lay off the contractors laid with Cognizant and that it didn’t have to negotiate with the workers since they were employed by a contractor. The NLRB ruled in March 2023 that Google controlled the workers’ benefits, hours of work, and direction of work, so the company could be considered a partial employer. Google appealed, but the NLRB upheld its ruling in January of this year.
“Employees at Cognizant, Google, and other companies across the United States must be protected from unfair retaliation for exercising their rights to organize. The NLRB’s response to the termination of YouTube Music workers and alleged labor practice complaints may set important precedent for workers and companies across America,” the letter notes.