via The Guardian, October 1, 2021
Ben Gwin works for Google Shopping in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Though he is technically a temporary worker at the tech giant, Gwin and 65 of his colleagues are now represented by the United Steelworkers union.
The group of workers ratified their first union contract in July after two years at the bargaining table with their contractor, HCL America Inc. The contract victory was historic in an industry that has aggressively opposed union drives, especially among temp and contracted employees.
Workers have characterized temp positions in the tech industry as a shadow, second-tier workforce who are drastically underpaid compared with direct employees doing the same or similar work and are often lured into the positions with the implication they could eventually be offered a permanent position directly with the company.
By seeking to unionize these positions, many of these workers are hoping to improve their circumstances.
“It’s a race to the bottom,” said Gwin. “That was one of the union-busting talking points. They claimed, ‘if you negotiate for better pay, someone else is going to come in and take this contract and pay less fees.’”
Gwin said he and his co-workers all work in various capacities for Google Shopping, alongside workers directly employed by Google in the company’s Pittsburgh office. Gwin describes a drawn-out unionizing campaign that included unfair labor practices filed by the union against the contractor, and retaliation by the contractor, which outsourced some of their jobs to Poland. But Gwin believes it was worth it. He co-authored a report published by the National Employment Law Project in August on how the biggest technology companies in the world have exploited workforces of temporary, vendor and contracted employees through a lack of job stability, lower pay and poor working conditions.
“This kind of system was created by tech companies so they essentially could have two workforces, divide workforces from each other, make worker solidarity harder to happen and extract as much labor as possible from the second-tier, temporary, contracted-out workforce while avoiding responsibility as an employer and pleading ignorance to the degraded work conditions their contracted workers face,” said Laura Padin, a co-author of the report and senior staff attorney with NELP.
Google has knowingly and illegally underpaid thousands of temporary workers in Europe and Asia for years. Hundreds of Google workers have signed a petition started by the Alphabet Workers Union in response to reports that the company illegally underpaid temporary workers. The petition demands that Google provides back pay to all temps and creates a path to permanent employment for these workers, ending the two-tiered temp system.