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 law 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, roughly 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 Borden, a technical analyst employed by HCL, who serves on the union's negotiating committee. "Meanwhile, they’ve been only hiring in Krakow so our bargaining unit numbers have gone down because they haven't replaced people here."
Since workers voted in the union in September 2019, the NLRB complaint also alleges that the company has implemented stricter policies for requesting vacation and employee job performance metrics, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by Motherboard. They've also started requiring employees to "complete 'quick check' quizzes" and implemented a stricter dress code, without consulting the union.
The NLRB complaint alleges that HCL has repeatedly stalled when the union has requested important information required for collective bargaining, such as a history of wage increases, a current list of all employees and supervisors, personnel policies, and a complete description of employee benefits.
"Simply put, it’s been very frustrating for us," said Borden. "We’ve been investing a great deal in bargaining proposals. The company has been consistently lying about information not being available. We had asked for a list of tasks that they claimed was going to take a huge amount of their time. It’s very clear to us they have no interest in being partners with the union. On a lot of important things they’ve stalled, cancelled on bargaining sessions last minute."
The NLRB has scheduled a hearing for February 9, 2021 when it will prosecute HCL for violating the National Labor Relations Act.
HCL and Google did not respond to a request for comment.