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Google Data Center Contractor Unionizes After Contentious Two-Year Negotiation

Google Pittsburgh is now officially a union shop. 

A Google data center in Douglas County, Georgia

HCL America, which supplies engineering and IT staffing for Google’s digital infrastructure in the Pittsburgh area, has agreed to a three-year contract with the United Steelworkers Union.

The deal comes after a contentious two years of negotiation since a controversial unionization effort in 2019. While Google and parent company Alphabet have distanced themselves from HCL’s labor dispute, the tech giant is facing increased unionization among its employees and increased scrutiny of how it treats the full-time non-employee contractors that make up most of its data center workforce. 

“We work with lots of partners, many of which have unionized workforces, and many of which don’t,” Google said in a written statement after the initial union vote. “As with all our partners, whether HCL’s employees unionize or not is between them and their employer. We’ll continue to partner with HCL.”

The contract ratified by both the union and HCL this week includes wage increases, additional job security measures, and paid time off for more than 65 HCL employees in Pittsburgh, according to a USW statement. Union organizers said the contract brings compensation packages more in line with what employees could expect if they were employed directly by Google. 

Since the initial unionization drive in 2019, relations between HCL and USW have been fraught. In response to complaints brought by HCL employees working at Google Pittsburgh, the National Labor Relations Board cited the company for illegally shifting work from Pittsburgh to their offices in Krakow, Poland, in retaliation for efforts to unionize.

“After ignoring our concerns, HCL tried to prevent us from forming a union, and when it failed, the company dragged out the negotiating process while sending our jobs overseas in retaliation,” HCL employee Amanda Parks said, according to a USW statement. “Now, with a strong union and contract in place, we’re confident that our voices will be heard.”

HCL, for its part, denies these claims.

In a statement released last week to The Verge prior to signing the collective bargaining agreement, the company stated that it has always been committed to coming to a deal with the USW.

“Throughout this process, HCL has been actively engaged in meaningful and fair discussions with the USW in good faith,” a company representative said in a written statement. “We have been steadfast in our commitment to respect our employees’ right to pursue unionization should they choose to do so.”

Over the past year, Google parent company Alphabet has faced a number of separate efforts to unionize among its workforce, from data center and cafeteria contractors to its own employees. In January, more than 800 Alphabet employees voted to certify the Alphabet Workers Union. Although its membership constitutes a small fraction of Alphabet’s total workforce, the union aims to represent both full-time workers and subcontractors.

Outside contractors, not Google employees, supply the vast majority of workers staffing the company’s data centers. The alleged disparity between Google’s wages for employees and contractors, central to the HCL unionization effort, has been a focus of the Alphabet Union as well. 

In February, the NLRB ruled that Google and data center subcontractor Modis had inappropriately suspended a worker at the Moncks Corner, South Carolina, data center for discussing her salary with other workers.