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

March 30, 2020
Marshall Auerback
Washington Uses the Pandemic to Create a $2 Trillion Slush Fund for Its Cronies
Ron Jacobs
Going After Maduro
Justin Podur
When Economists Try to Solve Health Crises, the Results Can Often be Disastrous
Thomas Knapp
Decarceration: COVID-19 is Opportunity Knocking
Arshad Khan - Meena Miriam Yust
Dying Planet and a Virus Unleashed
William Astore
How My Dad Predicted the Decline of America
Seth Sandronsky
Reclaiming Vacant Homes in the COVID-19 Pandemic
John G. Russell
Racial Profiling Disorder: the All-American Pandemic
Vijay Prashad, Paola Estrada, Ana Maldonado, and Zoe PC
As the World Tackles the COVID-19 Pandemic, the U.S. Raises the Pressure on Venezuela
Laura Flanders
Covid-19: Our Health Crisis is Born of Bigotry
Cesar Chelala
The New World of Coronavirus
Lawrence Wittner
The World’s Major Military and Economic Powers Find Happiness Elusive
Ted Rall
My Dead French Grandfather Helped Me with COVID-19
Rob Okun
A Citizens’ Call to Invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment
Ashar Foley
COVID-19 Proves It: We Need Medicare-for-All
Robert Koehler
The Virus is Our Teacher
Wim Laven
Are You Prepared to Needlessly Die for Your Country?
Jill Richardson
Stay Home, Stay Angry
What’s Wrong with Ranked Choice Voting
Mike Garrity
Alliance for the Wild Rockies Sues Trump’s Bureau of Reclamation for Bull Trout Fatalities in Saint Mary-Milk River Irrigation Project on the east Side of Glacier National Park
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival