Google Suddenly Lays Off Entire YouTube Music Team That Had Been On Strike

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The team, subcontracted through Cognizant, went on strike in February 2023.

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Illustration: Alex Castro / The Verge

A union representing contractors for YouTube Music claims that Google cut the workers’ contract after they went on a prolonged strike. 

The Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, which represents the contractors, said the team consisted of moderators employed by Google contractor Cognizant in Austin, Texas, that was responsible for approving music content for YouTube Music.

In a statement emailed to The Verge, Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini maintained the decision to cut the team did not lie with them but, rather, with Cognizant and said, “Contracts with our suppliers across the country routinely end on their natural expiry date.”

The team of more than 40 went on strike in February last year, demanding changes to Google’s return-to-work policy. The union said many workers who were hired to work remotely are paid as little as $19 an hour, and going to the office would be too expensive.

Cognizant chief communications officer Jeff DeMarrais said in an email to The Verge that the team will be given seven weeks of pay and opportunities to find another role within Cognizant.

Google previously argued that it doesn’t have to negotiate with the workers since they are not Google employees. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in March 2023 that because Google controlled benefits, hours of work, and the direction of the work of the contractors, it counted as a partial employer. The company appealed, and the NLRB upheld its ruling in January of this year. Google can appeal to federal court. 

“This is devastating. We have been fighting for years now to get Google, one of the most powerful and well-resourced companies in the world, to negotiate with us so that we could make a living in exchange for the work we do to make their products better. It is disgusting that Google has taken this path when confronted with its workers’ modest demands to be treated fairly on the job,” said contractor and union member Jack Benedict in a statement.

The YouTube Music contractors are not the only ones fighting Google to recognize them as employees. CNBC reported the NLRB said Google can be called a partial employer for unionized contractors with Accenture, who did work on Google Search and pre-rebrand Bard.

Update March 1st 4:05PM ET: Added statement from Cognizant.

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