In its first major action, the Alphabet Workers Union sued a Google subcontractor for allegedly preventing workers from discussing their wages and concerns about workplace conditions.
The AWU filed the unfair labor practice charge against data-services provider Modis Engineering and Alphabet on behalf of Shannon Wait, who was allegedly suspended by Modis after discussing salaries with co-workers and posting on Facebook about safety conditions at the center, including the company's alleged failure to replace damaged water bottles for workers.
According to a statement from the AWU, a Modis supervisor told Wait not to discuss wages with her co-workers after she questioned why a promised bonus had not been given to some workers. Under the National Labor Relation Act, employees are protected from retaliation against discussing the conditions of their employment, including salary. The complaint also alleges that Google and Alphabet retaliated against Wait, both for posting about worker treatment and sharing her public support for the AWU.
Wait said in a statement that workers' daily repair work at the Berkeley County, South Carolina, facility (a Google data center) has doubled during the pandemic, increasing concerns about worker safety (workers move heavy computer equipment and perform hardware maintenance, among other forms of physical labor). She shared those concerns in a Facebook post and was then questioned by the same supervisor who tried to prevent her from discussing the bonuses with her co-workers, according to the AWU statement.
"I want other TVCs to see this and know they have recourse if they see something illegal or unethical in their workplace," said Parul Koul, executive chair of the Alphabet Workers Union, in a statement.
Wait is one of hundreds of thousands of workers classified as a TVC (temps, vendors or contractors) at Alphabet. TVCs outnumber employees who are legally employed by Alphabet itself, and the Alphabet Workers Union represents both "official" Google employees and TVCs.
Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@
anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.