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Union claims Google datacentre contractors in US face repercussions for demanding 'basic benefits'

The Alphabet Workers Union-Communications Workers of America claims contractors working in several of Google's US datacentres have been punished for demanding ‘basic’ workplace benefits

A union has claimed that workers at Google’s US-based datacentres are finding themselves on the receiving end of retaliation and harassment for demanding “basic” workplace benefits.

The Alphabet Workers Union-Communications Workers of America (AWU-CWA) claims staff working within the tech giant’s US datacentres are “constantly” having to organise to secure basic benefits that are supposed to be afforded to all workers within Google’s extended labour supply chain.

The affected include those classified as being temporary, vendor and contract (TVC) workers, with the AWU-CWA claiming they have “lost access to their livelihoods” for being involved in campaigns aimed at ensuring they receive the workplace benefits they are entitled to.

This, in turn, led to the AWU-CWA filing two Unfair Labour Practice charges with the National Labour Relations Board on Wednesday 5 October.

The first filing is linked to a report of two individuals engaged via security personnel provider Allied Universal to work at Google’s datacentres in North and South Carolina, respectively, having their security clearances revoked after becoming involved in a workplace benefits campaign.

The second filing concerns a data technician who was engaged through IT employment agency Modis to work within Google’s datacentres and allegedly found themselves subject to harassment and intimidation following an attempt to collective organise, the AWU-CWA claims. 

“In both filings, Google and the relevant contractor companies are charged. Two additional workers, also listed in the charge, did not receive a renewal of their contracts, had their pay docked, and were effectively fired for participating in protected, concerted activity of discussing workplace conditions,” said the AWU-CWA in a statement.

In April 2019, Google introduced a policy in the US stating that “staffing partners” such as Allied Universal and Modis must pay workers a minimum of $15 per hour, provide them with 12 weeks of paid leave, as well as eight days of paid sick leave, healthcare provision and a $5,000 annual tuition allowance.

“Workers deserve to organise and win without being punished for their success. We need greater transparency on the job and clear protections to prevent workers from retaliation at work,” said Heather Smith, an Allied Universal security officer and member of the AWU-CWA. “I am standing up for my rights, and the rights of my fellow officers, to freely organise without retaliation.”

Elissia Cave, a Modis data technician and member of the AWU-CWA, said: “I know that a lot of people are very wary of working together and collectively bargaining for better treatment because a lot of us are afraid of retaliation.

“It doesn’t feel good to go to work and feel like I have to look over my shoulder. I want us to be able to express our grievances…and know we’ll be taken seriously. We shouldn’t have to worry about whether we will lose our job whenever we speak up.”

The AWU-CWA claims these cases are the latest in a string of similar allegations that have been made by TVC workers at Google datacentres.

“In November 2021, Modis datacentre workers were denied pandemic attendance bonuses and had to organise to win back their promised hazard pay,” the organisation said in a statement.

Another incident shared by the union includes the illegal suspension of a TVC worker who spoke out against working conditions, and a report about a transgender security officer who was allegedly denied a badge with their proper name on it.

“Alphabet TVC workers across Google datacentres have had to constantly organise for basic workplace rights and often face retaliation,” the union statement added.

Parul Koul, a Google software engineer and executive chair of the AWU-CWA, said the cases highlight how “bureaucracy and a lack of transparency” across Alphabet and the recruitment companies it engages with have made it “impossible” for workers to understand the basic benefits they are entitled to.

“The minimum standard of benefits that Google requires is just that — minimum. Google can and must take steps to ensure every worker, including all TVC workers, do not face retaliation on the job for exercising their right to organise,” added Koul.

Computer Weekly contacted Google for comment on this story, but did not receive a response.

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