Federal Lawmakers Call on Google CEO to Protect Striking Employees’ Rights: ‘Recognize the Invaluable Contributions YouTube Music Workers Bring to Your Company’

YouTube Music workers strike
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YouTube Music workers strike
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Photo Credit: YouTube Music

Earlier this month, about 40 (previously remote) YouTube Music employees went on strike after being ordered to show up for work at the office. Now, in a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, lawmakers in the House and the Senate are expressing their “serious concern” over the “alleged retaliation” that the striking staffers have faced.

The months-long dispute looks to have been set in motion back in October, when a majority of the 58-person YouTube Music team at hand – working specifically for Google contractor Cognizant (NASDAQ: CTSH) – filed a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) petition to join the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU).

And according to the AWU, which today held a rally in support of the strike outside a Google Store in New York, the YouTube Music parent and Cognizant “illegally” responded to the unionization push by implementing the initially noted return-to-office order.

“By forcing workers to RTO, Cognizant & Google have drastically & illegally changed our working conditions—which should remain unchanged until after our union election,” spelled out the AWU, which says that it has over 1,300 members.

The organization further maintains that the YouTube Music professionals in question, some of whom are said to earn $19 per hour, had been hired solely for remote work and cannot very well afford to cover the expenses associated with relocating to Austin.

But Cognizant relayed in a widely circulated statement that the employees had accepted their respective jobs – reportedly centering on approving music for the streaming service – with the understanding that they’d eventually need to head to the office. (Cognizant formally unveiled the policy in November and gave the workers until February 6th to relocate to Austin.)

“Cognizant respects the right of our associates to disagree with our policies, and to protest them lawfully,” the publicly traded business said. “However, it is disappointing that some of our associates have chosen to strike over a return to office policy that has been communicated to them repeatedly since December 2021. Associates working on this project accepted their employment with the understanding that they were accepting in-office positions, and that the team would work together at a physical location based in Austin.”

In any event, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Greg Casar are weighing in on the matter – and calling on Google’s CEO to ensure that workers “are able to freely exercise their right to join a union as guaranteed by federal law.”

“We worry that Cognizant suddenly imposed these impossible requirements on these workers in response to them exercising their right to organize a union,” the lawmakers penned. “Many of these workers, who make as little as $19 an hour, say they cannot afford the cost of relocating, the increased cost-of-living for the Austin area, and paying for child care on the current wages provided by your multi-billion-dollar company.

“When these workers went out on strike to protest against this reported anti-union retaliation, instead of reversing course, recognizing the union, and bargaining in good faith over ‘return-to-work’ and other policies, Cognizant doubled down and has reportedly offshored this work to workers in India.

“Mr. Pichai: your $60 billion in profits last year enables you to not only treat your workers fairly, but also recognize the invaluable contributions YouTube Music workers bring to your company and our community,” the senator and the representative proceeded.

At the time of this writing, Pichai didn’t seem to have responded publicly to the letter. Of course, tech companies have made all manner of cuts in recent months, with Alphabet/Google having trimmed 12,000 jobs in January. Meanwhile, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced five days ago that she would step down, after the video-sharing platform’s ad revenue slipped by almost eight percent during Q4 2022.