A federal agency this week filed a complaint against a contractor hired by Google, accusing them of violating the labor rights of its employees. This marks the latest focal point in a longstanding battle between workers and technology companies.
In the complaint, the National Labor Relations Board alleged that HCL America, a subsidiary of an Indian contract giant, illegally prevented workers from joining a union or negotiating in good faith with the union.
HCL and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The case does not accuse Google of any wrongdoing.
A group of around 90 HCL employees In Pittsburgh, for example, which conducts data analysis as part of a contract, the company voted to form a union at Google last fall. You have joined the United Steelworkers union.
According to the complaint, the company's managers interrogated workers about their colleagues' organizational activities, told them that promotions and wages would be delayed due to the union campaign, and threatened to enforce labor rules more strictly if the union was formed, which violates federal labor law.
After the workers voted for a union, the company began moving some of the work they had done to Poland. HCL also limited their ability to attend training courses and requested employees to conduct "quick check" tests on a regular basis, according to the complaint.
"Posting work outside the country during a pandemic in particular was a kind of irresponsible act," said Joshua Borden, an HCL worker with the union. "They tried to take jobs away from us in retaliation for organizing a fair workplace."
HCL also unilaterally changed its policy regarding breaks, vacation, family leave and 401 (k) dues, according to the complaint, despite being reported to negotiate with the union. And it has "been unreasonably delayed" in providing information on wages and job titles that the union had requested to help negotiate, the complaint said.
The successful union campaign at HCL last year was widely recognized as a major development in the technology industry which has been aggressively opposed to organizing labor. Industry workers such as security guards whose employers have contracts with giants like Google and Facebook have formed unions. However, it was believed that the HCL union would be the first group of technical workers to get organized while working for a large company.
Repeating a common refrain among tens of thousands of Google temporary workers and contractors, the HCL employees complained that while they often sat next to direct Google employees and worked together on projects, they usually had lower wages, fewer benefits, and less Job security received.
The organizing effort came at a time when employees across the industry, including Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, were protesting a variety of issues, including trying to discourage their employers from working with certain federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security.
A few months after the HCL workers unionized, workers at the Kickstarter crowdfunding site also formed a union and appeared to be the first group of direct employees from a well-known tech company to do so.
Google in particular has been in the spotlight during labor unrest. Company employees have protested the company's efforts to help the Department of Defense identify targets on video and have come out in protest of the company's handling of sexual misconduct.
Last year, it abruptly disbanded a team of contractors working on Google Assistant, its voice-activated tool. After employees protested, Google agreed to require the companies it hired to pay full-time workers at least $ 15 an hour and purchase health insurance.
The company also brought in a consulting firm known for helping employers fight union campaigns and last fall laid off several employees who were actively involved in organizing colleagues. Google said it fired workers for violating company policies.
The Labor Authority's case against HCL is due to be heard by an administrative judge next February, unless the company has previously come to terms with the government.
If the judge were to rule against HCL, he or she would likely order the company to reverse any changes it unilaterally made and negotiate with the union, said Wilma Liebman, a former chair of the National Labor Relations Board. HCL may also be required to compensate workers for losses suffered as a result of these changes.
The labor service issued the complaint on Monday, but the steelworkers union announced it on Thursday after having had an opportunity to review it, a union spokesman said.
Daisuke Wakabayashi contributed to the coverage.