(SINA) - A union reportedly complained to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Tuesday local time that Alphabet is using its offline return-to-work policy to illegally block YouTube's contract workers in Texas from forming a union.
In a complaint filed, the Alphabet Workers Union alleges that the tech giant and a staffing company announced new, stricter rules after learning about YouTube's union tactics. Under the rules, which took effect in February, employees who refuse to return to work offline in Austin will be considered "job abandonment" and "voluntary termination.
Contract workers who have adapted to remote work will be significantly affected by this, especially those who live outside the region, many of whom support unionization. The complaint also alleges that Alphabet executives have threatened pro-union advocates and have been moving local jobs to offices in other regions, such as India, in an effort to "deter union organizing measures (in Texas).
The treatment of contract workers has become a trigger point for Alpahbet, as the company relies heavily on human resources dispatchers to meet its workforce needs. Contract workers have made up the majority of the company's workforce as early as 2018, and the Alphabet Labor Federation has been working to organize direct and subcontracted employees.
Tuesday's complaint includes the human resources firm Kochiat, which manages the contract workers, and Alphabet, which the union argues is a "joint employer," meaning it exercises sufficient control over workers and is legally responsible for their treatment if they vote to join the union. Alphabet is obligated to negotiate if workers vote to join the union.
Kochite said Tuesday that the company's offline return-to-work policy "has been repeatedly and consistently communicated to all colleagues since December 2021," long before workers filed for unionization.
"A small number of associates who voluntarily left the Austin area and were unable or unwilling to return were given the opportunity to be placed in other client projects at Kochit." In a statement, Kochit spokesman Jeff DeMarrais said, "There is no basis for these allegations."
Alphabet has not yet commented.
Alphabet has previously denied being a "joint employer" of YouTube contract workers. "These people are not our employees." Aaron Agenbroad, a lawyer for the company, said at an NLRB hearing last November.
At the time, the AWU, an affiliate of the American Communications Workers Union, applied to form a union on behalf of about 60 YouTube employees, saying the vast majority of them had applied to join.
The laborers' jobs include making sure videos are properly tagged and viewing requests from YouTube Music users. The union said the team has been working remotely since early 2020, longer than most regular employees have been working remotely, and the announcement of this offline return to work came out of the blue.
"It's as if we suddenly said we wanted to unionize, so they asked us to come back to the office." Neil Gossell, a YouTube contract worker, said, "The timing is very questionable."
In a statement, Kochit said the employees "were fully aware of the intent to return to work offline prior to submitting the application."
"All colleagues who worked on this project came on board with the understanding that the job was located in the Austin office." Kochite's Agenbrod said.
If the AWU is successful in convincing the NLRB to recognize Alphabet as a joint employer of YouTube contract workers, and the AWU is able to win the union vote, then Alphabet will need to negotiate with that union for the first time.
Telecommuting policies have been a controversial issue in all types of businesses during the epidemic. The Communications Workers of America has filed a complaint with the NLRB alleging that other employers have failed to bargain fairly over the policy. Last spring, a group of Kochite employees working on a Google Maps project in Washington state threatened to strike because they felt it was unsafe to resume work offline. Kochite subsequently extended the deadline for offline return to work by 90 days.