On Tuesday afternoon, a group of tech professionals in Pittsburgh who work at Google—but not for Google—voted to form a union. It’s likely the first time that white-collar workers in the technology industry have done so. The workers are employed by the India-owned firm HCL America. Forty-four of them voted yes in the election, which they’ve asked the National Labor Relations Board to certify. Twenty-two voted against it.
The contractors work on the Google Shopping platform, in the same Pittsburgh offices as full-time Googlers directly employed by the company. They’re colleagues, eating lunch together and working on the same projects, and like the Google employees, the contractors are skilled workers with college degrees. But unlike Google staff, they don’t have the company’s generous benefits, are paid less, and say they have little to no job security. The precariousness of their employment isn’t hypothetical: In March, Google swiftly cut the jobs of about 34 temp workers on its voice assistant. Google workers employed by HCL feared they could be let go at any moment too. “We have at-will employment, so there’s really not much protecting us, and that is one of the main things that we’re hoping to gain in bargaining, more security,” said Ben Gwin, one of the HCL workers. Currently, the subcontractor’s employees aren’t given any paid sick days either, Gwin said.