YouTube Music Staffers Face Harassment Allegations as Strike Enters Third Week: ‘They’re Trying to Smear Low-Wage Workers’

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Cognizant’s original corporate headquarters in Chennai, India. Photo Credit: Cognizant

The third week of the YouTube Music strike is in full swing, and around 40 team members (contracted by Cognizant) are continuing to speak out against a return-to-office order that they say violates the terms of their employment.

The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) unveiled the YouTube Music strike towards February’s beginning and has provided more than a few updates on social media in the interim. (Though currently in its third week by the AWU’s official count, the strike was formally announced in a tweet on the 3rd.)

For background, October saw a majority of the 58-person team at hand, tasked specifically with approving music for the Google-owned streaming service, file a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) petition to unionize.

Shortly thereafter, Cognizant announced that the previously remote employees (who are said to take home a minimum of $19 per hour) would have to turn up for work at an Austin office by February 6th. The impacted professionals then went on strike shortly before the deadline, painting the return-to-office order as an “illegal” response to the overarching unionization push and a related vote.

“Google, YouTube & Cognizant must allow workers to maintain their standard flexible working conditions until after their union election,” the Alphabet Workers Union spelled out in a recent tweet.

Lawmakers in the House and the Senate last week penned a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, making clear their “serious concern” about the “alleged retaliation” that the striking workers have faced. Cognizant, for its part, maintains that the YouTube Music staffers have known about the eventual RTO requirement since accepting their respective positions.

Now in its third week, the AFL-CIO-recognized strike is showing few signs of slowing down, and the Alphabet Workers Union has claimed that Cognizant is “desperate” to end the remote workers’ walkout.

As part of the latter, Cognizant CEO Ravi Kumar (who only started in the role in January) is said to have blocked the AWU on Twitter, where allegations of threats against a Cognizant employee are circulating.

“Now, Cognizant is falsely alleging to reporters that ‘an unidentified male’ threatened a Cognizant employee on the picket line,” penned the AWU, which has a code of conduct prohibiting members from, among many additional things, physically harassing others. “Workers made no threats—they played music and chanted in support of their right to organize.

“They’re trying to smear low-wage workers who are risking their livelihoods to push the company to meet the commitments made when our workers were hired,” the organization claimed.

After this piece was published, a Cognizant representative reached out to DMN with a formal statement about the situation, indicating, besides other things, that the Teaneck, New Jersey-headquartered company “is the sole employer of these employees, not Google or YouTube.”

Additionally, the same rep provided what appears to be a copy of an Austin PD incident report pertaining to the above-highlighted alleged threat against a Cognizant employee. According to the document, an as-yet-unidentified male protester on February 6th yelled “‘Kill La Shonda’” into some sort of “pa system” outside the business’s Austin office.

An individual named LeTonya Shaw currently serves as Cognizant’s HR head, and “several” security guards are said to have heard the alleged threat.

The AWU has further refuted Cognizant’s description of the return-to-office order, claiming that “many” of the striking “workers were hired off of a job posting that did not mention any RTO expectations, but instead listed the job as remote.”

And this afternoon, the entity celebrated a $15-per-hour pay guarantee for contracted Google search-results “raters” – while also signaling that it would continue to advocate for benefits on behalf of the involved employees.

On the YouTube Music front, though, time will reveal the precise strength of the striking employees’ case, and it’s worth noting in conclusion that Cognizant has already “offshored” their duties “to workers in India,” according to the aforesaid letter from lawmakers. (Cognizant likewise disputed this claim after publishing, communicating that the YouTube Music work hadn’t been outsourced.)