About 80 workers employed by a third-party vendor for Google called HCL Technologies voted to join the United Steelworkers on Tuesday. White-collar tech industry contractors have unionized for the first time — a historic step that could inspire other Silicon Valley contract workers.
- How can tech companies balance their need for workforce flexibility and still provide contract workers with equitable pay and benefits?
- Can organizing and collectively negotiating for better working conditions bring needed changes in the tech industry?
- If you were CEO of Google or HCL Technologies, what actions would you take to engage the contract worker’s concerns?
- Steve Gyrgo, who has worked for HCL for two years, told the Pittsburgh City Paper that he was concerned the union couldn’t protect workers if Google cut ties with HCL in response to their organization since they don’t technically work for Google.
- An internal petition published by Google workers reportedly asked the company to condemn anti-union efforts by HCL and commit to keeping their contract with the company regardless of the vote’s results.
- Organizers allege that HCL conducted an aggressive anti-union campaign in advance of the vote.
Organizers say that unfair treatment inspired the push for unionization at Google’s Bakery Square offices, where contractors work alongside full-time Google employees doing similar work but are paid less and receive fewer benefits.
Google’s dependence on contractors, temporary employees, and outside vendors has long been a source of controversy. The company’s so-called shadow workforce outnumbers full-time employees, and few of these workers receive comparable pay, benefits, or job security. This issue has been highlighted by Google employees and activists.
During a November employee walkout, organizers called for better treatment for nontraditional workers. In April, more than 900 Google employees signed a petition in support of contractors who worked on Google Assistant and were let go. And last August, over 3,000 security guards who had been contracted to work for tech giants like Google and Facebook ratified their first union contract after raising similar issues.
“We work with lots of partners, many of which have unionized workforces, and many of which don’t,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “As with all our partners, whether HCL’s employees unionize or not is between them and their employer. We’ll continue to partner with HCL.”
HCL worker Joshua Borden said in a statement, “We deserve more respect, dignity and democracy in our relationship with our employer,” “We fought for a seat at the table, and today we won. We look forward to bargaining a contract that reflects our important contributions to HCL’s continuing success.”
Borden said that he and his colleagues work inside the Google office in Pittsburgh, but it was “clear right from the start” who were the contractors and who worked directly for Google. This kind of tiered workforce is common in Silicon Valley as public companies look for ways to trim costs by hiring outside of the company, which keeps them from offering comparable salaries and benefits.