Local YouTube Music workers on strike have won powerful national allies this week: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Greg Casar.
In an open letter sent to Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai this morning (CC’ing YouTube and Cognizant CEOs Neal Mohan and Ravi Kumar) they write: “Mr. Pichai: your $60 billion in profits last year enables you to not only treat your workers fairly, but also recognize the invaluable contributions YouTube Music workers bring to your company and our community. Our request to you is simple: Ensure that all Google workers, including YouTube Music workers, are able to freely exercise their right to join a union as guaranteed by federal law.”
Less than three weeks after 58 YouTube Music workers filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election in October, Cognizant, their employer and a contractor with Google, issued a return-to-office mandate. In response, the workers filed two Unfair Labor Practice complaints with the NLRB and have gone on strike; this will mark their third full week of picketing. They, like Sanders, see the RTO mandate as an illegal union-busting tactic. Many of their workers live outside of Austin and can’t afford to relocate; others work extra jobs to make ends meet. Today, they will march to the Google headquarters in Austin and rally along with Casar.
“I think this retaliation is because of how much opportunity there is for working people if we organize,” Casar told the Chronicle Monday. The letter decries Cognizant’s response to the workers’ strike: “Instead of reversing course, recognizing the union, and bargaining in good faith over ‘return-to-work’ and other policies, Cognizant doubled down and has reportedly offshored this work to workers in India.”
The creators behind YouTube Music aren’t high paid tech employees, Casar said. They’re only paid $19 an hour, with no offer for covering relocation costs for the RTO, despite Google’s massive revenues. “YouTube Music workers are the people that are making those products, the people who build these companies.” He says the fact that this first strike in the Alphabet Workers Union’s history is happening in Austin flags an important misconception about the booming tech industry here: “There’s this facade that tech workers in Austin are all making big salaries and doing real well; the story of the YouTube Music worker starts proving that that’s just not the case. The tech industry has huge inequality in it, just like so many other American industries.”
Even though Cognizant is the technical employer of the YouTube Music contractors, worker/organizer Sam Regan says they’re rallying at Google because “we believe that Cognizant and Google are joint employers for our department.” Previously Regan told the Chronicle most everything except the human resources team is managed by Google. “Google is a much bigger company than Cognizant, and we know that they have the power to influence aspects of our contract and working conditions.” Regan says the union has yet to hear back from the NLRB; they filed for election in October and submitted the ULPs in January. “We’re trying to be patient. Trying. [Casar’s] support certainly means a lot to us. He has had a lot of influence as an Austin City Council person, and is a strong voice for social and economic justice. And as for Bernie, having his endorsement gives us more national coverage and more attention to our campaign.”
“Here in Austin, we celebrate Austin’s music and bands,” said Casar. “But we don’t want our starving musicians to actually be starving.”
YouTube Music workers on strike will meet at City Hall at 8am today; they will march to Google Headquarters at 500 W. Second Street at 9am, and begin speeches and a live reading of the letter at 9:30am.
Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at austinchronicle.com/opinion.