According to the Alphabet Workers Union, over 40 contractors for YouTube Music have gone on strike, a first for Google (or AWU). The strike is in response to an order to return to in-person work next week, which many workers say they are unable to do. They want a return-to-work policy that is “fair, flexible, and does not jeopardize workers’ safety and livelihoods,” according to an AWU press release.
The employees are part of the YouTube Music Content Operations team through Cognizant, an Alphabet, Google, and YouTube parent company subcontractor. According to an earlier press release from the AWU, their jobs will be to “ensure music content is available and approved” for the platform.
The pay and availability issues are at the root of the opposition to the return to office plan. According to the AWU, the contractors are paid as little as $19 per hour, making it difficult to afford the relocation, travel, or childcare costs that they would not have had to pay if they worked remotely rather than in an Austin, TX office.
An unnamed Cognizant spokesperson told Engadget that the return to office policy had been “repeatedly communicated to [the workers] since December 2021,” and that they had accepted the positions “with the understanding that they were accepting in-office positions, and that the team would work together at a physical location based in Austin.” Google would not provide an on-the-record comment for this story, but the company has told the National Labor Relations board that it does not see the workers as its employees, according to Bloomberg.
The contractors are currently attempting to unionize with the AWU, which petitioned the National Labor Relations Board in October to represent them. The AWU filed an unfair labor practice charge against Alphabet and Cognizant last week, claiming that the workers’ return to office was being used to “interfere with the fair voting conditions mandated by federal law,” as one of the workers put it in a press release.