Contract workers for Google in Pittsburgh voted to join the United Steelworkers on Tuesday, according to the union.
The result was 49 votes for and 24 against, said Maria Somma, the organizing director for the union.
This is one of the first victories for organized labor since waves of employee activism began consuming the technology giant last year. The union hopes to gain a broader foothold in the sector, even with white-collar staff who have largely avoided organized labor. It has already expanded beyond steel, representing employees in education and health care. Most of the Pittsburgh staff are data analysts for Google Shopping, the company’s product search service.
“I would hope, if direct Google employees should consider union organizing, that they would consider the Steelworkers,” Somma said.
HCL Technologies Ltd., the employer of the contract workers, did not respond to requests for comment.
A Google spokeswoman said the company works with many unionized partners. “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,” she said.
Contract labor has been one of several internal flash points at Alphabet Inc.’s Google. More than half the company’s workforce comes from temporary, vendor and contract workers, called TVCs, who lack access to some of Google’s famous perks.
Several employees petitioned management to address the discrepancy late last year. Since then, Google brought some contract roles in-house and started requiring contract firms to provide health care, parental leave and other benefits.
Still, some HCL workers said the benefits fall short. The company does not provide paid sick days and forced staff to take vacation days during national holidays, when Google’s offices closed, according to Ben Gwin, an HCL employee. He also said HCL didn’t provide wages in line with inflation. “We’re effectively losing money the longer we stay,” he said.
Unionization at big tech firms has been relatively scarce. In 2014, about 40 sub-contracted Microsoft Corp. software bug-testers won the right to bargain collectively with their temp agency, Lionbridge Technologies Inc. But in 2016, Lionbridge announced it was terminating the entire unionized group, citing decreased demand from Microsoft. An National Labor Relations Board complaint brought by the union against Microsoft and Lionbridge was settled in 2018.
At tech companies, organized labor has mostly had success with service sector roles, such as janitors and cafeteria workers. The Pittsburgh contractors mark a rare union drive for more technical employees.
HCL is one of several big outsourcing firms that contracts with Google and many of its tech peers. Jeremy Carlson, a representative for HCL, wrote an email to the Pittsburgh contractors on Friday discouraging them from voting to approve the union. “Do you really think the Steelworkers understand our needs, our industry, our business, or even what you do on a daily basis? I don’t,” he wrote in the email viewed by Bloomberg News.
“I felt insulted when I read that,” said Renata Nelson, another HCL employee at Google.
Once the union drive in Pittsburgh began, some Google direct staff began a petition asking the company to stay neutral in the dispute.
In an email to Google staff on Monday, a Google director wrote that the tech giant wouldn’t get involved in the union drive. “Irrespective of the vote, we’ll continue to partner with HCL, and this will have no impact on any business decisions about the work they do,” the email read, according to a copy viewed by Bloomberg News.