A group of Pittsburgh-based Google contractors is among the first in the company’s history to unionise, following a successful vote this afternoon, 49 to 24. The 80 or so analysts and machine learning trainers will become part of the United Steelworkers Union.
“I’m honoured that HCL workers chose to join our union and our fight on behalf of all working people,” USW International President Thomas M. Conway said in a statement. “They deserve to have their voices heard. Together, we’ll make sure that they are.”
Today’s vote follows a union card-signing last month, which approximately two-thirds of the workforce at the Bakery Square, Pennsylvania, group participated in.
Although Google is, like many big tech firms, thought of primarily as a business staffed by high-paid, highly pampered coders, half of the company’s labour is provided by contractors. These second-class workers tend to lack the lush benefits and competitive pay of their peers, and despite doing work core to Google’s business, Recode reported that some of these HCL contractors earn just $US40,000 ($58,832) per year.
Some within Google’s ranks, like security guards, have organised relatively recently, but as a whole, the company remains non-union by a wide margin — and according to the Steelworkers, the company was openly hostile to the prospect of these contractors setting a precedent
“HCL workers voted in favour of unionisation despite a company-led anti-union campaign, which included mandatory meetings and the use of a controversial management consultant,” USW wrote in a press release following the vote. (HCL has disputed these characterizations.)
“We work with lots of partners, many of which have unionised workforces, and many of which don’t,” Google spokesperson Jenn Kaiser told Gizmodo. “As with all our partners, whether HCL’s employees unionise or not is between them and their employer. We’ll continue to partner with HCL.”
Google has acted as something of a bellwether in the current climate of activism in big tech, where white-collar workers at the search giant have pushed back against working on a drone project for the Pentagon, the use of forced arbitration in employment contracts, and the company’s impact on climate change — all of which presaged similar activism at other firms like Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce.
The unionisation vote also comes on the heels of organising campaigns at two other tech companies — a successful one at podcasting mainstay Gimlet, and a contentious, ongoing one at fundraising platform Kickstarter.
Following certification by the National Labour Relations Board, the USW will “file a formal request with HCL for information to begin bargaining over wages, benefits and working conditions,” a spokesperson told Gizmodo.
“We fought for a seat at the table, and today we won,” Joshua Borden, an HCL worker wrote. “We look forward to bargaining a contract that reflects our important contributions to HCL’s continuing success.”