Law360 (October 9, 2020, 5:03 PM EDT) — National Labor Relations Board prosecutors have accused a Google contractor of illegally interfering with its workers’ union rights by outsourcing jobs to Poland, a year after its employees voted to form one of the first-ever bargaining units of white collar technology workers.
The NLRB’s Pittsburgh office accused HCL America of a host of unfair labor practice violations in an Oct. 5 complaint, which the United Steelworkers union announced Thursday. In addition to shipping work overseas, the company has adjusted worker vacation and leave benefits and refused to play ball in contract bargaining, prosecutors say.
“[HCL] has been interfering with, restraining and…
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Google contractors who recently unionized say their jobs are being slowly shipped to Poland. On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint laying out the allegations against HCL America, an engineering and IT contractor that works with Google in Pittsburgh.
Obtained by Motherboard, the complaint argues the jobs are being outsourced in retaliation for legitimate union activity. In particular, the NLRB says the conduct took place “because employees formed, joined and assisted the Union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.”
None of the affected workers are legal employees of Google, but they specialize in engineering and IT tasks for HCL. The contractors voted to unionize in 2019, organizing under the United Steelworkers union. According to the complaint, the company has failed to bargain with the newly formed unit and has transferred work previously undertaken by the team to offshore workers in Kraków, Poland.
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Contract workers have been a significant aspect of employee activism at Google, including a public memo sent in March by full-time employees in March demanding better treatment for the contract workforce.
Temporary, vendor, and contract employees outnumber full-time Google employees, and typically face lower wages and less job security. In May, Google abruptly rescinded more than 2000 incoming contracts, citing cost-cutting measures spurred by the global pandemic. Because the workers were not yet under contract, the measures were not legally considered to be layoffs and the workers were ineligible for unemployment insurance as a result.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint this week against HCL America that accuses the Google contractor of violating its employees’ labor rights through a bevy of union-busting tactics. The complaint alleges that the company, a subsidiary of the India-based contracting titan HCL Technologies, illegally pressured its Pittsburgh workforce not to unionize and retaliated against their efforts by partially shifting their jobs overseas.
Last fall, a group of roughly 80 Google contractors became among the first in the company’s history to unionize after voting to become affiliated with North America’s largest industrial union, United Steelworkers. Following the vote, the labor board alleges that HCL began siphoning off the team’s responsibilities, which included data analysis and machine learning training under a contract with Google, to its employees in Poland.
“Most egregiously, HCL has been eroding its Pittsburgh workforce by brazenly moving work done here to its facility in Krakow, Poland, to retaliate against workers for exercising their right to choose union representation,” Joshua Borden, who serves on the union’s negotiating committee, said in a press release. “Management would rather break the law than negotiate in good faith for a fair contract.”
HCL and Google did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. The complaint claims that HCL higher-ups violated federal labor laws by threatening to withhold wages and promotions if contractors at Google’s Bakery Square headquarters continued to push for unionization. Management also promised to come down on rule violations more strictly if a union was formed, according to the labor board.
The company allegedly began limiting job training opportunities and instituting periodic “quick check” quizzes for workers in retaliation, per the New York Times. In the year since the vote, employees say more than a dozen positions that belonged to the
A year ago, 80 Google contractors employed by HCL America in Pittsburgh voted to unionize with US Steelworkers—a historic victory for white collar tech workers in the U.S. Since then, the fight to win their first union contract has been an uphill battle.
On Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board issued a formal complaint against HCL, alleging that the company has violated U.S. labor by failing to bargain with the U.S. Steelworkers union, implementing unilateral changes, and transferring bargaining unit work to non-union members working in a facility in Krakow, Poland.
“[HCL] engaged in [the conduct described] because employees formed, joined and assisted the Union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities,” the NLRB complaint states.
In 2019, nearly two-thirds of the 80 contractors in Pittsburgh who work at Google’s Bakery Square office voted in favor of unionization. While they are not employed directly by Google, many of them work as analysts on Google Shopping.
The list of allegations against managers and supervisors is extensive, and predates the formation of the union. The complaint alleges that HCL management interrogated employees about the union activities of other employees, told employees that the “granting a promotion and wage increase” would be delayed because of the union, “restricted the distribution of union insignia” during non-work hours, and “threatened employees with stricter rules and policies” if workers voted in the union.
The 1935 National Labor Relations Act makes it illegal for employers to retaliate against employees who engage in union organizing activity, and requires that employers bargain with the union over changes to work policy and union positions.
“We’ve had a firing freeze for our office, and as people have been leaving, they’ve been offering to replace them in Krakow,” said Josh
A federal agency issued a complaint this week against a contractor hired by Google and accused it of violating its employees’ labor rights, marking the latest flash point in a long-running struggle between workers and technology companies.
In the complaint, the National Labor Relations Board asserts that HCL America, a subsidiary of an Indian contracting giant, illegally discouraged workers from belonging to a union, and of failing to bargain with the union in good faith.
HCL and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The case does not accuse Google of wrongdoing.
A group of about 90HCL employeesin Pittsburgh who do work such as data analysis under a contract the company has with Google voted to unionize last fall. They affiliated with the United Steelworkers union.
According to the complaint, managers at the company interrogated workers about the organizing activities of their colleagues, told them that promotions and wages were being delayed because of the union campaign and threatened to enforce work rules more strictly if the union was created, in violation of federal labor law.
After the employees voted to unionize, the labor board asserts, the company began shifting some of the work that they performed to Poland. HCL also limited their ability to participate in training sessions and required employees to take periodic “quick check” quizzes, according to the complaint.
“Sending work out of the country during a pandemic was especially kind of an unconscionable action,” said Joshua Borden, an HCL worker active in the union. “They were trying to take jobs away from us in retaliation for organizing to have a fair workplace.”
HCL also unilaterally altered policies relating to breaks, vacation, family leave, and 401(k) contributions, according to the complaint, even though it is supposed to bargain over them with the union.