• The workers won the union election 41-0
  • The National labor board in March ruled Google is a joint employer of the contract staff
  • Google is appealing the decision

Contract workers at YouTube Music voted overwhelmingly to unionize with the Alphabet Workers Union- Communications Workers of America (AWU-CWA) on Wednesday. This means Alphabet, the parent company of Google, could have to negotiate directly with a labor group for the first time.

Out of 49 eligible voters, 41 voted in favor of unionizing, while the remaining eight opted out of the election, TechCrunch reported. Though the contract workers are hired by third-party tech services and consulting provider Cognizant, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in March ruled that Google, along with Cognizant, is their employer.

The contract workers held a strike in February, citing alleged interference from both Cognizant and Alphabet in their organizing efforts. They also called out the company's return-to-office policy.

The employees will now prepare to bargain with Alphabet for a labor contract.

"WE WON!" the AWU-CWA said in a Twitter post after the vote. The union said YouTube Music workers are now "ready to bring BOTH of their employers to the negotiating table to win their fair share," adding "months of union-busting couldn't stop this wave of worker power!"

The landslide union victory could mean that the tech giant will be forced for the first time to negotiate directly with a labor group, Insider reported. The Google parent company has been insisting that YouTube Music contract staff are employed by Cognizant and therefore, Alphabet is not responsible for their working conditions.

Both Alphabet and Cognizant have been given a deadline of May 3 to file objections to the elections and if they fail to file any objections, the results will be certified by the NLRB and bargaining would follow suit.

"We have no objection to these Cognizant workers electing to form a union. We've long had many contracts with unionized suppliers. However, as we made clear in our active appeal to NLRB, we are not a joint employer as we simply do not control their employment terms or working conditions," YouTube said in a statement to Axios on Wednesday.

Responding to the election, Cognizant said its philosophy remains "that we are better together through open dialogue and collaboration."

Last month, Timothy Watson, a regional director of the NLRB, said Google was a "joint employer," rejecting the tech giant's claim that Cognizant was the sole employer of the contract staff.

In the ruling, Watson noted that Google "exercises direct and immediate control over benefits, hours of work, supervision and direction of work" of YouTube Music contract staff.

Parul Koul, AWU executive chair, previously told Gizmodo that Alphabet implemented a "multi-tiered employment system" that allowed it to "profit billions every quarter while denying responsibility for tens of thousands of workers who are integral to that income."

Ahead of the February strike that initially stemmed from Google's return-to-office policy, the employees said the rule threatened the livelihoods of workers whose residences were far from the Austin, Texas, office. The group also said the policy was an act of retaliation from the company to thwart their union drive.

They said with a pay of only around $19 per hour, workers cannot afford travel, relocation or childcare costs that come with in-person work.

Google is challenging the NLRB's ruling.

G. Roger King, senior labor and employment counsel at the HR Policy Association, told Politico that joint employer negotiations come with organizing and bargaining "consequences" as there were more questions than answers regarding the case.

"And that's why I think this case, particularly – people who are looking to see if the board provides any greater clarity in what it's going to do," King pointed out.

Alphabet is not the only tech giant that has been accused of union-busting tactics.

Late last month, the CWA filed two unfair labor practice (ULP) complaints against Apple for allegedly firing five workers. The union said one former Apple retail worker in Kansas City was fired "for a typo" in his timesheet. The former Apple employee claimed the real reason for his termination was his labor-organizing efforts.

Silhouettes of mobile device users are seen next to a screen projection of Youtube logo in this picture illustration
YouTube Music contractors staged a February strike, accusing Google and Cognizant of union-busting. Reuters