Google Fiber workers in Kansas City are making an offer for a union gathering

The vast majority of Google Fiber customer support representatives, who operate from a store in Kansas City, Missouri, have signed union cards in hopes of signing their first contract with their bosses. They are organized under the auspices of Alphabet Workers Union, a year-old department of Communication Workers of America that strives to represent employees and contractors at all levels of Google’s parent company.

Eleven workers – 10 of whom have signed cards since the union began in October – are jointly employed by Google and a recruitment agency called BDS Connected Solutions. This is not unusual, as is the personnel arrangement with Alphabet: the story from 2019. New York Times found workers and contractors made up the majority of the tech giant’s workforce, while a Recode a report that same year states that this second class of workers earned significantly less than Google’s own full-time workers. According to two BDS workers who spoke to Engadget, customer representatives felt left out of key personnel and security protocol conversations, and communication with management deteriorated.

“We started by just asking, ‘Hey, how do you feel about this idea? Do you think you have enough words in the conditions in which you work?’ We basically got the unanimous ‘No, I don’t feel like we are’, Emrys Adair told Engadget. “It hasn’t always been this way,” said Mike Knox, who has been a Google Fiber representative for several years, “the general relationship between management and workers. It used to be closer.” Kansas City was the first market in which Google Fiber was launched almost ten years ago.

However, what makes this pressure to form a negotiating unit somewhat unusual is the decision to move directly to submitting a petition to the National Labor Committee. This is usually a longer, more difficult option when the employer refuses to voluntarily recognize the union. But, according to Adair, Alphabet and BDS neither tried to stifle the union drive, nor did they express readiness to recognize it. “There has been no recognition, no rejection. There is still no answer,” they said. Google and BDS did not respond to Engadget’s requests for comment.

As in many jobs in recent years, these service representatives have also gone through closure, part-time work and the occasional need to isolate and work remotely when a colleague is positive on COVID-19. Although they did not want to give too many details about what they would hope to provide in the first contract, one of the benefits they want to get is a risk salary. “As for the actual precautions against COVID, they did a pretty good job,” Adair said. “Our main concern is that we continue to work in the shop in person in the pandemic, which in itself, no matter how you do it, is a risk.”

It may be months or years before the NLRB makes a decision on the right of these workers to form a negotiating unit. Meanwhile, Knox hopes this could spur action from others within Google Fiber. “We really hope this inspires in that regard,” he said. “We hope it’s a focal point where other people can see it and decide to ask for more information.”

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Naveen Kumar

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