Google datacenter contractors claim 'retaliation' for talking workers' rights

Plus: A fresh Amazon NLRB complaint over 'surveillance'

A trade union for Alphabet workers has made two complaints with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Google and its contractors about the treatment of tech workers at the search giant's US datacenters.

The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) filed two Unfair Labor Practice complaints on behalf of several staffers on October 5, claiming there was a "culture of harassment" against temporary, vendor, and contract officers with links to collective action.

The first filing alleges that two security officers at Google datacenters in North and South Carolina – both of whom worked for Google contractor Allied Universal – had their security clearances revoked after they were involved in what the union describes as a "campaign to win back the basic benefits Google guarantees for all extended workers," alleging that the workers were "denied access to their livelihood in retaliation for organizing."

The union is claiming that when Allied Universal was brought in as a replacement for a previous security contractor for Google Data Centers, workers were allegedly told they were no longer entitled to the minimum standard of benefits Google guarantees for all extended workers. Google uses the term "extended workforce" to refer to contractors, contract workers, and independent companies who work for the search giant.

AWU says workers "collectively won back" those benefits earlier this month after petitioning both Allied Universal and Google, although the NLRB complaint stands. The workers claim the two companies breached Section 8(a)(3) of the National Labor Relations Act by "discriminating against employees because of their union activities or sympathies."

In the second case, according to the AWU, a data technician with Google contractor Modis is alleged to have faced harassment and intimidation following an attempt to organize their fellow workers.

In both filings, Google is accused alongside the relevant contractor company.

Two additional workers also listed in the second charge are alleged to have had their pay docked and missed contract renewals following their participation in "protected, concerted activity of discussing workplace conditions." If true, these would also be section 8 breaches – aka "unfair labor practices" (ULPs) – and the allegations include retaliation, coercive statements (threats, promises of benefits, etc.), and discharge.

In a statement, Google software engineer Parul Koul, executive chair of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, said: "Google can and must take steps to ensure every worker, including all [temps, vendor, and contract] workers, do not face retaliation on the job for exercising their right to organize."

We have contacted Google, the AWU, and Google contractors Allied Universal and Adecco Group subsidiary Modis, both of which provide staff for Google's datacenters, for comment.

In a previous NLRB complaint against Modis, in February 2021, contract workers alleged they were banned from discussing wages and job conditions – which is perfectly acceptable under US law. In that case, a bilateral settlement agreement was filed the very next month.

Amazon has also been fending off attempts by its workers to unionize. It stands accused of harassing union organizers, according to a consolidated complaint filed earlier this month for which it was due to lodge a response last week. The workers allege that in the months before the failed unionization attempt at its LDJ5 warehouse on Staten Island in May, they were harassed for displaying pro-union material in their downtime, among other things.

Amazon told us at the time: "These allegations are completely without merit and we look forward to showing that through the process."

At the time of writing, the most recent NLRB complaint against Amazon – in which a worker is claiming it violated Section 8 of the Act by allegedly conducting illegal surveillance of workers – was filed on October 11.

Meanwhile, Amazon drivers in Japan recently formed a union to protect them against AI-generated route plans they say are impossible to complete within the deadlines Amazon gives them. ®

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