Thousands of Google contract workers responsible for training and rating the engine’s search results will receive a historic pay raise this year after a months-long Alphabet Workers Union-CWA campaign, the AWU-CWA announced Wednesday.
The workers are based at RaterLabs, an AI training vendor whose only known client is Google, according to an AWU-CWA press release. Where these workers, known as raters, were previously paid as little as $10 an hour, they will now be paid $14 or $14.50 an hour, depending on experience. The AWU-CWA estimates that the raise will affect between 3,000 and 5,000 workers, for a total collective salary increase of about $10 million.
This is the first salary increase won by the union, which represents workers at Google, its parent company Alphabet, and its extended workforce including contract workers.
“The work we do as raters for Google is critical to their success. Yet, since I started as a rater eight years ago, I have not received a single raise,” said Michelle Curtis, an Alphabet contract worker and union member. “While $14.50 is a step forward, it is still not the $15.00 minimum set by Google for its extended workforce, and does not include the multitude of other benefits currently denied to us.”
In 2019, Google set forth a wages and benefits standard for all of its provisioned extended workforce in the United States, meaning temps and vendors with systems access. “All members of Google’s provisioned extended workforce, working in the United States, should be paid $15/hour or more,” the standard read. “In locations where the minimum wage is more than $15/hour, we will expect that you comply with that higher requirement.”
Google set the compliance date for the standard in 2020, but this past May, workers began to demand that Alphabet enforce the standard on its contractors, not just workers under its umbrella. After negotiations with RaterLabs and its parent company Appen in October, salary increases were announced on Dec. 21, 2022, and finalized one week later. The new rates went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
“Whenever we raised questions regarding our low pay we would receive contradictory responses from Google and RaterLabs regarding who was responsible for our livelihoods,” said Jay Buchanan, another Alphabet contract worker and union member. “The only reason workers received this long overdue pay increase is because we overcame multiple hurdles to our organizing. We demand that Google hold all of its contracting companies accountable to fulfilling the baseline pay and benefits we’ve been promised as members of Google’s extended workforce.”
Neither Google nor Appen responded to Motherboard's request for comment.
Workers at RaterLabs are responsible for training, testing, and evaluating Google’s search results by rating how accurately the algorithm responds to prompts, as well as the relevance and quality of ads. These jobs are often long and tedious, with minimal rewards or benefits, and the people who do them power AI from behind the scenes. Large companies like Meta and Amazon typically outsource this work to contract workers outside the United States to avoid having to include them in benefits schedules. For that reason, it’s even more unlikely for contract workers and raters to be able to unionize and demand higher wages, much less win them.
“Victories like this one make it clear that workers refuse to remain separated by lines of employment classification and can achieve so much more when we band together,” said Parul Koul, a software engineer and the executive chair of the AWU-CWA. “We celebrate the powerful organizing by our RaterLabs members and call on Google to ensure that every worker within their extended workforce receives the promised pay, benefits and resources they justly deserve.”