FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The New Workers’ Revolution is Afoot

Last year TechCrunch ran a piece postulating “What If Google unionized?” after over 20,000 Google workers walked out of their offices in protest of how the tech giant has handled harassment and discrimination cases in recent years. Google’s response to this walkout and internal protests related to the layoff of 34 contract programmers was to address some of the problems raised. For instance earlier this year, Google said that companies which contract out its internal jobs must offer all temp workers paid sick days, paid parental leave, comprehensive health care, and tuition reimbursement. Google also claimed that contracting companies would have to agree to pay these workers a minimum of $15 an hour.

Still, since August of this year, there has been much speculation over Google employees in Pittsburgh unionizing. Since this summer, about 66 percent of the eligible contractors at HCL America Inc., an Indian outsourcing firm based at Google’s Bakery Square offices, sought union representation according to the United Steel Workers (USW). With the assistance of the Pittsburgh Association of Technical Professionals (PATP), these Google employees are asking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for the right to vote for union representation. The PATP is a project sponsored by United Steelworkers (USW) union with the aim of helping “Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania workers in high-tech fields organize and bargain collectively with their employers for improved working conditions and standards of living.”

While some are claiming this is the norm for what Google’s “shadow work force,” the masses of temporary workers and contractors that outnumber Google’s full-time workforce (about 54 percent of Google’s entire staff), this action raises flags to what are the clear class divisions of salary and labor rights within Google’s ever-expanding workforce. While Google’s shadow labor force mostly works alongside full-time Google employees, these temporary workers are generally employed by third-party contractors, they earn less money and have no paid vacation time. These differences are not minor in a world where more and more gig economy workers such as Uber and Lyft drivers who have stood by Google workers, faced similar battles in attempting to unionize both in the UK and the US. Basically, there is a rise of consciousness among temporary and gig economy workers who are viewing their role in a company’s enrichment as causing them great financial stress and personal instability while observing their colleagues who had the luck of snagging full-time contracts attain the rights that the majority of workers would also like to enjoy. From healthcare to sick leave to perks such as paid travel to include travel authorization and hotels.

So two weeks ago, the two-thirds of Google’s temp workers in Pittsburgh voted to unionize despite HCL’s urging of its temp workers to not vote to unionize. While employment law in the US is fairly cut and dry regarding how employees are defined as opposed to autonomous freelancers who are assumed to have control over their time and movement, these distinctions are increasingly becoming blurred. And all this, to include Uber’s refusal to consider its workers as employees, could be set to change in California under Assembly Bill 5, or AB5. Under AB5, gig workers would effectively be turned into employees, to include almost half a million Californians who work for app companies in addition to those who already work for ride sharing and food delivery companies which are pushing back on this effort. At this point it looks like AB5 which passed the state House and Senate last month as it was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, but it looks like AB5 might set a legal labor rights precedent.

Gig-type labor has been under the microscope for years as companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash (United States) in addition to Didi Chuxing (China) and Ola (India) have grown in size and power such that contractors are quite powerless individually to face down these behemoth corporations. Just as Google fought efforts for its Pittsburgh-based workers to unionize in recent months, so too have the likes of Uber hit back at class-action lawsuits from its drivers. Even BuzzFeed employees voted to unionize spurred on by the publication’s having cut over 15 percent of its workforce.  It is clear that a workers’ revolution is on the horizon and what we are learning from the recent actions in California and Pittsburgh that workers of the world really do need to unite. And now!

More articles by:

Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She can be reached at: julian.vigo@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail