Unionized YouTube Workers Lose Their Jobs During Live City Council Stream

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For the past year, contractors associated with Google’s YouTube Music Content Operations Team have been attempting to collectively bargain with the tech giant. Those workers won the right to unionize last April in a historic victory and, since that time, have been trying to get Google to come to the bargaining table. On Friday, amidst yet another effort to spur negotiations, some of those workers lost their contracting positions with the tech giant, according to the union representing them.

The moment that workers found out they’d been laid off was captured in video from a City Council meeting in Austin, Texas. At the meeting, councilors were debating whether to pass a resolution that would have called on Google to bargain with its workers. Some of the impacted contractors were speaking at the meeting when one delivered the news that they had all been “laid off.”

YouTube music employees find out they were laid off during Austin City Council meeting

The Austin City Council ultimately passed the resolution calling on Google to bargain with its workers, though it was too late.

The workers in question were contracted to YouTube through IT talent firm Cognizant. The end of Google’s contract with Cognizant spurred last week’s layoffs. In a statement to local news, Cognizant said that the laid-off workers would now become part of a “deployable talent pool” and would be given “seven weeks of dedicated, paid time to explore other roles within the organization and build new skills through our training ecosystem.”

Cognizant shared a statement with Gizmodo that disputes the claim that the workers were laid off: “Nobody was laid off yesterday,” the statement reads. “A contract expired and the Austin-based employees are still Cognizant employees. As a professional services company, ramp-downs and ramp-ups of projects are a normal part of Cognizant’s business operations. This contract ended at its planned expiration date.”

When reached for comment, Google shared a statement that disavowed responsibility for the incident: “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.”

On the topic of collective bargaining, Google had the following to say: “As we’ve said before, we have no objection to these Cognizant employees electing to form a union. 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.”

Alphabet Workers Union-CWA put out a statement Thursday condemning the job losses that took place this week. “This is devastating. We have been fighting for years now to get Google, one of the most powerful and well-resourced companies in the world, to negotiate with us so that we could make a living in exchange for the work we do to make their products better,” said Jack Benedict, Music Generalist, and member of AWU-CWA, as part of the statement.

Some of the workers in question are paid as low as $19 an hour and “receive minimal benefits,” the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA says.

The National Labor Review Board has declared that Google is legally obligated to bargain with unionized workers. Google is breaking the law by refusing to come to the table. Of course, in this country, it doesn’t matter if you’re a criminal as long as you have lots and lots of money. You can just go on breaking the law, sometimes indefinitely, if you’re worth a certain amount. Google, like other large companies, has apparently decided that its market cap is just too damn high for it to have to abide by federal labor laws.

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