A group of Google contract workers who helped train the company’s Bard AI chatbot and write Google Help articles voted overwhelmingly to form a union on Monday. The workers, who are contracted to work for Google through Accenture, unionized to secure better working conditions and protections.
The contractors will join the Alphabet Workers Union, the labor organization that represents employees at Google and its Alphabet parent company. They first started unionization efforts in June after they were directed to work on the then-unannounced Bard chatbot. As part of their efforts to help train the bot, they were asked to “handle obscene, graphic and offensive prompts,” according to a report from Bloomberg.
When one of the contractors filed a complaint with Accenture’s human resources department about the content, Bloomberg reports their work was outsourced to Accenture workers in Manila. Just weeks after the contract actors announced their unionization campaign, dozens of contractors were laid off, leaving only about 40 out of 120 workers with their jobs.
“We organized so that we could have a say in our working conditions,” Jen Hill, a Google Help designer and Alphabet Workers Union member, says in a statement. “In response, Google has tried to skirt its responsibility to us as our employer, while also laying off dozens of our team members.”
The contractors classify Google as a “joint employer” alongside Accenture
The contractors classify Google as a “joint employer” alongside Accenture, meaning both companies work closely with the workers and can be held accountable for their treatment. Google, however, maintains it isn’t a direct employer.
“We have no objection to these Accenture workers electing to form a union. We’ve long had many contracts with unionized suppliers,” Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini tells The Verge. “However, as we made clear in our active appeal to the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board], we are not a joint employer as we simply do not control their employment terms or working conditions — this matter is between the workers and their employer, Accenture”
In its appeal to the NLRB, Google says Accenture “alone” determines employees’ work schedules, job classifications, time-off requests, and pay. Accenture spokesperson Deirdre Blackwood says the company acknowledges “the right of our people to form or join unions” and that it will “continue to participate in the NLRB process.”
Google has faced criticism over its treatment of contract workers for years, and more of them in all areas of Google are starting to unionize. A group of contractors who work on YouTube Music voted to form a union in April, with the NLRB ruling Alphabet should be classified as a joint employer, a decision that would force Google to take a seat at the bargaining table. However, the NLRB says Google refuses to negotiate with workers as part of the contract bargaining process. With Google already pushing back on claims that it’s a joint employer to Accenture workers, we’re likely going to have another legal battle on our hands.