Google illegally refusing to bargain with employee union, says NLRB

Search giant told yet again that contractors still employees, must be bargained with

Updated The US National Labor Relations Board has decided that Google's contractors are still its employees, thus Google is violating US labor laws by refusing to bargain with their chosen union.

A three-judge NLRB panel reached that conclusion in a case between Google and a group of contract staffers working with Google's YouTube team who were hired through staffing firm Cognizant. 

Cognizant contractors on the YouTube team voted to join the Alphabet Workers Union-Communication Workers of America (AWU-CWA) last April. Shortly after, the AWU accused Google and Cognizant of refusing to bargain with it on behalf of the YouTube contract workers.

According to the NLRB panel, Google openly admits to refusing to bargain with the Union because it, along with Cognizant "contest the validity of the union's certification" based on the pair's position "that Cognizant and Google are not joint employers." 

The NLRB has concluded otherwise that "Cognizant and Google have codetermined the essential terms and conditions of employment [for the YouTube team] and have been joint employers" at all material times. 

"By failing and refusing … to recognize and bargain with the Union [Google and Cognizant] have engaged in unfair labor practices affecting commerce within the meaning of Section 8(a)(5) and (1) and Section 2(6) and (7) of the [National Labor Relations] Act," the three-judge panel decided. 

Google, however, stands fast to the position that those Cognizant employees might work at Google, but not for it. 

"As we've said before, we have no objection to these Cognizant employees electing to form a union," Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini told The Register. "We simply believe it's only appropriate for Cognizant, as their employer, to engage in collective bargaining." 

"We're appealing the NLRB's joint employer decision to federal court as Google does not control the employment terms or conditions of these Cognizant workers," Mencini added. 

If Google refuses to comply with the NLRB order the board won't have much way to penalize it, at least not for now. Per the judges, a "compensatory remedy" was requested, but the board severed the issue for future consideration since fining Google for its actions would require reviewing prior case law and "outlining a methodological framework for calculating such a remedy." 

In other words, we'll figure it out if and when we have to.

How many times must you be told?

If this entire situation sounds similar, that's because it's practically a point-for-point repeat of another situation Google found itself in last year. 

In that instance, a group of Google contract employees hired through Accenture and working to train Bard were allegedly fired after attempting to unionize, but remaining team members went through and won their vote to join the AWU-CWA in November. Mencini had a largely identical script prepared for us when we spoke after the NLRB decided Google and Accenture were joint employers despite Google's claims to the contrary. 

"We have no objection to these Accenture workers electing to form a union. We've long had many contracts with unionized suppliers," Mencini told us last year. "However, as we made clear in our active appeal to the NLRB, we are not a joint employer as we simply do not control their employment terms or working conditions." 

The Accenture appeal is ongoing. Google was told last year that it and Cognizant met the terms of joint employment, but its latest appeal means the matter is headed for the federal court system. There, the matter could have wide-ranging implications for the future of contract labor law. ®

Update to add

“Once again, the National Labor Relations Board has found Alphabet guilty of breaking labor law and infringing on our rights as workers to freely organize and bargain for fair working conditions," Katie-Marie Marschner, subject matter expert at YouTube Music and member of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, told The Register.

"After a unanimous union election victory, and consistent rulings from the NLRB determining that Alphabet significantly shapes our working conditions and is in fact our employer, the company has refused to meet us at the bargaining table. Google and Cognizant have proceeded to make unilateral changes to our working conditions such as a forced return to office, removal of sick pay during a global pandemic, and the implementation of a 'Clean Room' policy that bars us from having our phones, paper, or pens in our office, without bargaining with our union.

"Any future appeals by Alphabet are just an attempt to avoid collectively bargaining with the union and pad the pockets of shareholders and executives. Alphabet and Cognizant are our joint employers and we, as employees of one of the largest corporations in the world, deserve to earn something above poverty wages."

More about


Send us news

Other stories you might like