Google Fiber workers in Kansas City make a bid to unionize

A supermajority of customer service representatives for Google Fiber, operating out of a store in Kansas City, Missouri, have signed union cards in the hopes of bargaining their first contract with their bosses. They’re organizing under the auspices of the Alphabet Workers Union, a year-old division of the Communication Workers of America which is seeking to represent employees and contractors at all level of Google’s parent company. 

The 11 workers — 10 of whom have signed cards since the union drive began in October — are jointly employed by Google and a staffing agency called BDS Connected Solutions. That’s not out of the ordinary, as staffing arrangements with Alphabet go: a 2019 story in the New York Times found temps and contractors made up the majority of the tech giant’s workforce, while a Recode report that same year indicated that this second class of laborers earned significantly less than Google’s own full-time employees. According to two BDS workers who spoke to Engadget, customer representatives had been feeling left out of key conversations about staffing and safety protocols, and communication with management has deteriorated. 

“We started off by just asking, ‘Hey, how do you feel about this idea? Do you feel like you have enough say, in the conditions that you work in?’ We basically received a unanimous ‘No, I don’t feel like we do,'” Emrys Adair told Engadget. “It hasn’t always been like this,” Mike Knox, who has been a Google Fiber representative for several years, said “the general relationship between management and the workers. It used to be closer.” Kansas City was the very first market Google Fiber launched in, nearly a decade ago.

What makes this push to form a bargaining unit somewhat unusual, however, has been the decision to skip straight to petitioning the National Labor Relations Board. Typically, this is the longer, more arduous option when an employer refuses to voluntarily recognize a union. But, according to Adair, Alphabet and BDS have neither attempted to quash the union drive, nor expressed a willingness to recognize it.”There’s been no acknowledgement, no pushback. no response at all yet,” they said. Google and BDS have not responded to requests for comment from Engadget.

Like many workplaces in recent years, these service representatives have cycled through closures, reduced hours and the occasional need to isolate and work remotely when a colleague tests positive for COVID-19. While they weren’t keen to give too many specifics as to what they’d hope to secure in a first contract, one of the benefits they’re seeking to obtain is hazard pay. “As far as the actual COVID precautions go, they’ve done a pretty alright, job,” Adair said. “Our main concern is just that we’re still working in the store in person in a pandemic, which in and of itself, no matter how you do that is a risk.”

It may be months or years before the NLRB makes a ruling on these workers’ right to form a bargaining unit. In the meantime, Knox hopes it might spur action from others within Google Fiber. “We’re really hoping that this inspires in that regard,” he said. “We’re hoping that’s a flashpoint where other people can see that and decide to push for more input.”

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