YouTube workers laid off mid-plea at city hall meeting

Caught on camera: 'Our jobs are ended today, effective immediately'

The moment 43 unionized YouTube Music subcontractors lost their jobs was dramatically caught on camera during an Austin City Hall meeting in Texas last week.

Ironically, the purpose of the meeting was to vote on a resolution brought by members of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA for the city council to urge Google and Cognizant, the contractors' employer, to "engage in good-faith negotiations with the union representing the workers of the YouTube Music Content Operations Team to address their concerns and work towards mutually beneficial solutions."

The draft resolution went on to list "fair compensation, job security, and workplace protections for YouTube Music workers, recognizing their integral role in the success of the platform" as issues the union wanted addressed.

The Austin team, which ensured music was available and approved for use, complained that they didn't get sick pay and received a salary of just $19 an hour with minimal benefits. Some reported having to work multiple jobs to get by. They also cited a return-to-office order that shrank the team by 20 percent.

The workers unanimously voted to unionize in April 2023 and claim that Google has since refused to engage with them. Google, for its part, holds that IT services and consulting company Cognizant is responsible for the employees' working conditions so cannot negotiate with them.

This contrasts with the position of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which last year ruled that Cognizant and Google are joint employers of the team. Cognizant is partnered with Google under a dedicated "Google Cloud Business Group."

The NLRB sent a cease-and-desist letter to both employers in January 2023 for failing to bargain with the union, which held strikes the following month over the return-to-office mandate and again the following September over the lack of engagement from their employers.

Jack Benedict, a YouTube data analyst, said that in the wake of this action the team was asked to train agents in India to do their jobs so they could fill in during holidays or further strikes.

It was Benedict who was addressing Austin City Council when the unfortunate news hit. "To be supported by the city of Austin, and also our allies in the labor community, gives us the motivation to keep this fight going," he was saying, until his colleague, Katie Marie Marschner, approached the podium.

"Not to interrupt but they just laid us all off," she then said into the mic. "Our jobs are ended today, effective immediately." Marschner previously alleged that Google had lobbied the council to delay the resolution vote.

Youtube Video

Awkwardly, a bell then rings to signal the end of Benedict's time, to which a counselor promised to "follow up on this."

While the speech was going on, colleagues at the office had been called into their daily 09:30 meeting where they were told that they no longer had jobs – no notice, no private email.

Security guards were present as Cognizant leadership told them the project had been cut. They were given 20 minutes to gather their belongings and get out before they were considered trespassers.

Sam Regan, a data analyst who was in the meeting, told The Washington Post: "It was really nasty. It was simply one of the most dehumanizing experiences of my life."

A Google statement to 404media reads: "As we've shared before, these are not Google employees. Cognizant is responsible for these workers' employment terms, including staffing. As is the case here, contracts with our suppliers across the company routinely end on their natural expiry date, which was agreed to with Cognizant."

Alphabet Workers Union-CWA said in a statement: "The layers of subcontracting are a mechanism by which Google distances itself from its responsibilities to its workers. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has upheld a ruling that recognized Google and Cognizant as joint employers of these workers. The NLRB found that Google has control over workers and their working conditions and is thus obligated to directly negotiate with their union." ®

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