A vast majority of Google Fiber’s customer service representatives, operating out of a store in Kansas City, Missouri, have signed union cards in hopes of negotiating their first contract with their bosses. They are organizing under the auspices of the Alphabet Workers Union, a year-old division of the Communication Workers of America that aims to represent employees and contractors at all levels of Google’s parent company.
The 11 employees — 10 of whom have signed a card since the union action began in October — are jointly employed by Google and an employment agency called BDS Connected Solutions. That’s not uncommon, given that the workforce plans go with Alphabet: A 2019 New York Times story found that temps and contractors made up the majority of the tech giant’s workforce, while a Recode report that same year indicated that this second class of workers earned significantly less than Google’s own full-time employees. According to two BDS employees who spoke to Engadget, customer representatives have felt left out of important conversations about personnel and safety protocols, and communication with management has deteriorated.
“We started by just asking, ‘Hey, what do you think of this idea? Do you feel like you have enough to say, in the circumstances you work in?’ We basically got a unanimous ‘No, I don’t feel like we do,'” Emrys Adair told Engadget. “It hasn’t always been like this,” said Mike Knox, who has been a Google Fiber representative for several years, “the overall relationship between management and employees. It used to be closer.” Kansas City was the very first market where Google Fiber was launched, almost a decade ago.
What makes this push to form a negotiating unit somewhat unusual, however, is the decision to petition the National Labor Relations Board directly. Usually this is the longer, more difficult option when an employer refuses to voluntarily recognize a union. But according to Adair, Alphabet and BDS have not tried to nullify the union drive, nor have they expressed a willingness to acknowledge it. Google and BDS did not respond to requests for comment from Engadget.
Like many workplaces in recent years, these service workers have cycled closures, shorter hours and the occasional need to isolate and work remotely when a colleague tests positive for COVID-19. While they didn’t want to give too much detail about what they would hope to get in a first contract, one of the perks they want to gain is the risk compensation. “In terms of actual COVID precautions, they’ve done quite well,” Adair said. “Our main concern is just that we’re still personally working in-store in a pandemic, which in itself, however you do it, is a risk.”
It could take months or years for the NLRB to make a ruling on these employees’ right to form a bargaining unit. In the meantime, Knox hopes it will spur others within Google Fiber into action. “We really hope this inspires in that regard,” he said. “We hope this is a flashpoint where other people can see that and decide to push for more input.”
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