Contract workers at Google’s office in Philadelphia have just announced their intention to unionize.
66 percent of the eligible contractors at a company called HCL America Inc., signed cards seeking union representation, according to the United Steel Workers union. With the help of the Pittsburgh Association of Technical Professions (PATP), they’re asking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a vote on union representation. The PATP is a project sponsored by the union aimed at "helping Pittsburgh and Southwestern Pennsylvania workers in high-tech fields organize and bargain collectively.”
“Workers at HCL deserve far more than they have received in terms of compensation, transparency and consideration, and it has gone on like this for much too long,” HCL worker Renata Nelson said in a press release. “While on-site management tries to do what they can, where they can, their hands are often tied by arbitrary corporate policy.”
The vote for union representation is an important step, necessary to empower a union to exclusively represent employees and negotiate on their behalf for a collective bargaining agreement. The move also represents an important step in the small but growing movement to unionize Silicon Valley’s workforce. The press release explains that HCL's 90 employees "work side-by-side with those of the giant corporation for far less compensation and few, if any, of the perks."
This is the norm for members of Google's "shadow work force," an army of temps and contractors that outnumber Google's full-time workforce. Earlier this year, organizers of the Google employee walkouts released a statement supporting striking Uber and Lyft drivers, who are not technically employees of those companies and thus receive few benefits. In it, they critiqued of Google’s own classifications for “temps, vendors, or contractors" allowed the company to "abdicate its responsibility to the majority of its workforce."
In some instances, contractors do the same work as employees but are paid less and get fewer benefits. In other scenarios, the contractors are doing “ghost work” because they’re erased entirely as their labor is presented as the product of “artificial intelligence.”
From here, the workers and the union have to wait for the NLRB to determine if the cards and signatures collected qualify and then schedule a representation election. In that election, individual workers will vote for or against being represented by the union.
Google and the United Steelworkers Union did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.