Mar 4, 2024 2 min read

YouTube Music staff laid off in middle of meeting about employment rights with Austin City Council

A group of YouTube Music staff found out that they had been made redundant while speaking at a council meeting in Texas, urging councillors to support them in their efforts to get the Google-owned company to negotiate with their union. Google says they were contractors whose agreements have expired

YouTube Music staff laid off in middle of meeting about employment rights with Austin City Council

Members of a YouTube Music team based in Austin, Texas found out that they had been laid off while urging the city's council to pass a resolution that would ask the company to negotiate with their union. The employees have been in dispute over the last year with YouTube and owner Google - and its parent company Alphabet - regarding new rules restricting remote working and a refusal to bargain with union representatives. 

Jack Benedict, a data analyst for the YouTube music service, told the meeting of Austin City Council last week, "It's been over a year since we first went on strike over our employer's return to office policy". Employees opposed that policy, he added, not because they didn't want to work from YouTube's office in Austin, but because the post-COVID policy change was "essentially a lay off against a large percentage of our team who didn't live in the Austin area". 

"Again in September we went on strike over our employer's refusal to bargain with our union", he went on. "To this day they refuse to come to the negotiating table and Google still refuses to acknowledge us as their employees even after countless losses in court which say the contrary". That latter point relates to the fact that the YouTube Music team are technically contractors employed via a third party, the professional services company Cognizant

Having thanked council members for sponsoring the resolution that calls on YouTube to bargain with the union, Benedict said that the council's support was "yet another victory and another step in pressuring our employers to come to the negotiating table and bargain in good faith". 

Then, as he began to expand on that point, a colleague of Benedict's stepped forward to let him know that the entire team had been laid off. 

In a subsequent statement, Benedict told reporters, “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".

Cognizant says that the Austin-based YouTube Music team have been laid off because its contract with the Google company has expired. Employees, it adds, will receive seven weeks of paid time while they "explore other roles within the organisation". For its part, Google said, "contracts with our suppliers across the company routinely end on their natural expiry date, which was agreed to with Cognizant". 

However, the Alphabet Workers Union, of which Benedict and his colleagues are members, insist that the contracting of teams via Cognizant is a tactic employed by Google to reduce its obligations to its employees. 

"The layers of subcontracting are a mechanism by which Google distances itself from its responsibilities to its workers", it said last week. "However, the National Labor Relations Board has upheld a ruling that recognised Google and Cognizant as joint employers of these workers. The NLRB found that Google has control over workers and their working conditions and is thus obligated to directly negotiate with their union". 

Whatever the technicalities and legalities, having team members find out they are being axed in the middle of explaining to Austin councillors why YouTube and Cognizant are bad employers is not a good look. We await to see if any legal action follows.

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