YouTube is going to federal court due to an ongoing legal dispute with a group of unionized contractors. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined in a recent ruling that YouTube had unlawfully declined to enter into talks with contractors who had become members of the Alphabet Workers Union.

Joint employer controversy

The NLRB disputes YouTube’s arguments that it has no control over the employees of the staffing company Cognizant, highlighting Google’s direct influence on a number of employment-related issues. 

A regional director at the NLRB asserted, “Google exercises direct and immediate control over benefits, hours of work, supervision and direction of work.” The contractors voted to join the Alphabet Workers Union in April, affiliated with the Communications Workers of America.

The NLRB ruled on January 3, ordering YouTube to “cease and desist” its refusal to negotiate with the Alphabet Workers Union. YouTube plans to file an appeal in federal court, maintaining that it should only engage in collective bargaining with Cognizant, the contractors’ direct employer. “We’re appealing the NLRB’s joint employer decision to federal court as Google does not control the employment terms or conditions of these Cognizant workers,” Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini said.

Previous cases and changing regulations

Similar challenges have been addressed by Google before. The NLRB declared Google and Accenture to be joint employers in a prior case last year; this ruling is presently being appealed. It is now more difficult for companies to distance themselves from third-party contractors’ attempts to unionize due to recent modifications to NLRB laws. The new rule considers a company, such as Amazon or Google, a joint employer if it controls various aspects like pay, scheduling, and discipline.

Worker concerns

The Alphabet Workers Union has expressed concerns about alleged intimidation tactics and return-to-office rules that could undermine their organizational efforts, which Cognizant denies the merit of these allegations.