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Protocol | Workplace

Unionizing is the 'easy' part. Getting a contract can be harder.

The union representing Google contract workers in Pittsburgh still doesn't have a contract after nearly 21 months.

Two neon digital hands shaking

Union contract negotiations take, on average, about 16 months.

Photo: Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

In the nearly seven years Gabrielle Norton-Moore has worked as a contractor at Google, her annual take-home pay has increased by just $91.

"When I did the math on that, like — I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad," Norton-Moore, a data analyst, told Protocol. "I was so angry because that's literally criminal."

Unfortunately, the opposite is true. But achieving better pay is one of the demands Norton-Moore and her unionized comrades have on their bargaining list. Norton-Moore is part of a group of roughly 65 employees for information technology firm HCL who are contracted to work at Google's Bakery Square office in Pittsburgh. Norton-Moore and her colleagues handle the data "that makes the machine learning happen and run smoothly," she said.

In September 2019, these workers unionized with the United Steelworkers union. But they have yet to solidify their contract with HCL.

Members of the HCL union are part of a growing number of tech workers who have unionized or are actively forming a union in recent years. But forming a union is just the first step on the long road of collective bargaining. Negotiating a contract with an employer can take years.

Time to contract

The contract negotiation process is generally a slow one. On average, it takes unions a little over 13 months to solidify their first contract, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis.

The Glitch union, which the management team voluntarily recognized in March 2020, became the first tech union to ratify a contract this past March. The contract, which codified grievance and arbitration procedures, just-cause provisions and terms for severance pay, came about one year after the creation of the union, but was negotiated over the span of five months.

Representatives from the Glitch union were unavailable for comment.

The HCL union, however, is in its 21st month of negotiations.

"It can really vary," USW spokesperson Jess Kamm Broomell told Protocol when asked how long it takes to get a contract. "But this one is moving very slowly. We're also very supportive of the PRO Act. One of the reasons that's important is because it does put limits on how long a company can drag out that initial process."

The unionized workers in Pittsburgh say HCL is not bargaining in good faith and that the company is intentionally dragging its feet.

"It's so obvious," Norton-Moore said, noting HCL has cancelled multiple scheduled bargaining sessions.

"Most contracts do take a long time," she added. "Especially the first one, but I mean, even this is pushing it."

In May, USW delivered a petition signed by 1,156 tech workers to HCL, demanding the company negotiate in good faith. The May petition came several months after the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against HCL, alleging the company failed to bargain in good faith. The complaint also claims HCL retaliated against its Pittsburgh workforce by moving some of the work to Poland. This week, the NLRB issued an amended complaint alleging HCL illegally froze wages in 2020. The hearing for the complaint is scheduled to take place in mid-July.

HCL, however, disagrees with that characterization. The company told Protocol it has negotiated in good faith.

"Successful contract negotiations require all parties to communicate in reasonable, actionable terms," a spokesperson for HCL told Protocol in a statement. "That has been and is our goal. To that end, HCL continues to negotiate in good faith with the USW in hopes of finalizing a mutually beneficial contract."

What's on the table

Kickstarter, following HCL, became the second major group of tech workers to unionize in February 2020. The union, Kickstarter United, reached an agreement with Kickstarter management pertaining to laid-off workers in May 2020, but still has yet to ratify a contract.

Kickstarter United, the company and the company's lawyers have met regularly throughout 2020 and 2021, Kickstarter senior software engineer Dannel Jurado, on behalf of Kickstarter United, told Protocol in a statement.

"As is usual with first contracts, things have been moving slow but we are making progress," Jurado said. "We are working towards a comprehensive contract that meets our bargaining unit's priorities of transparency, accountability, and equity. That takes time."

Kickstarter United organized around issues including equitable compensation, diversity and inclusion, and transparency around hiring, firing, promotions and disciplinary action. Jurado was unable to provide any additional context on the details of the negotiation process.

The HCL union conducted a survey of its bargaining unit to determine what issues are workers' highest priorities. They landed on better health care benefits, more vacation and higher, more equitable compensation.

"The biggest thing that we found out through all of this is the insane pay disparity," Norton-Moore said. "It's absolutely bonkers."

The lowest paid HCL worker at the Google office makes about $35,000 annually while the highest paid person makes $72,000 annually, Norton-Moore said. On average, HCL contractors at Google only receive about a 1% raise per year, which is lower than the rate of inflation over the last few years, she said. That's also much lower than the average 2.6% salary increase U.S. employees are projected to receive this year, according to a 2020 survey.

The union also wants to receive the same paid holidays their coworkers who are Google employees receive. While Google grants paid time off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Presidents Day, HCL does not. That means that when Google closes its building, HCL contractors are required to take vacation time.

Despite how long the process has taken, Norton-Moore is optimistic about its outcome.

"[The bargaining committee seems] to be down to the nitty-gritty and seem hopeful they'll be able to get us what we're requesting," she said. "It looks hopeful, but it's just literally getting them to the table is the biggest thing."

*This reporter's partner was on the bargaining committee at Glitch. She left the company in April 2021.

Protocol | Fintech

Amazon wants a crypto play. Its history in payments is not encouraging.

It missed chances to be PayPal, Square and Stripe — so is this its chance to miss being Coinbase, too?

Amazon wants to be a crypto player.

Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

The news that Amazon was hiring a lead for a new digital currency and blockchain initiative sent the price of bitcoin soaring. But there's another way to look at the news that's less bullish on bitcoin and bearish on Amazon: 13 years after Satoshi Nakamoto's whitepaper appeared on the internet, Amazon is just discovering cryptocurrency?

That may be a bit unkind, but the truth is sometimes unkind. And the reality is that Amazon has a long history of stumbles and missed opportunities in payments, which goes back more than two decades to the company's purchase of internet payments startup Accept.com.

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Owen Thomas

Owen Thomas is a senior editor at Protocol overseeing venture capital and financial technology coverage. He was previously business editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and before that editor-in-chief at ReadWrite, a technology news site. You're probably going to remind him that he was managing editor at Valleywag, Gawker Media's Silicon Valley gossip rag. He lives in San Francisco with his husband and Ramona the Love Terrier, whom you should follow on Instagram.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

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Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Enterprise

How Google Cloud plans to kill its ‘Killed By Google’ reputation

Under the new Google Enterprise APIs policy, the company is making a promise that its services will remain available and stable far into the future.

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has promised to make the company more customer-friendly.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images 2019

Google Cloud issued a promise Monday to current and potential customers that it's safe to build a business around its core technologies, another step in its transformation from an engineering playground to a true enterprise tech vendor.

Starting Monday, Google will designate a subset of APIs across the company as Google Enterprise APIs, including APIs from Google Cloud, Google Workspace and Google Maps. APIs selected for this category — which will include "a majority" of Google Cloud APIs according to Kripa Krishnan, vice president at Google Cloud — will be subject to strict guidelines regarding any changes that could affect customer software built around those APIs.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Amazon job opening points to plan to accept crypto payments

The news sparked a rally in the values of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Amazon may be planning to let customers pay for orders with cryptocurrencies.

Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

Amazon is looking to hire a digital currency and blockchain expert suggesting a plan to let customers accept cryptocurrencies as payments.

The tech giant's job opening says Amazon is looking for "an experienced product leader" to help develop the company's "digital currency and blockchain strategy and roadmap" Amazon is looking for product leader with expertise in blockchain, distributed ledger, central bank digital currencies and cryptocurrency.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Protocol | Policy

Big Tech tried to redefine terrorism online. It got messy fast.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism announced a series of narrow steps it's taking that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

Erin Saltman is GIFCT's director of programming.

Photo: Paul Morigi/Flickr

A little over a month after the Jan. 6 riot, the tech industry's leading anti-terrorism alliance — a group founded by Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter — announced it was seeking ideas for how it could expand its definition of terrorism, which had for years been more or less synonymous with Islamic terrorism. The group, called the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism or GIFCT, had been considering such a shift for at least a year, but the rising threat of domestic extremism, punctuated by the Capitol uprising, made it all the more clear something needed to change.

But after months of interviewing member companies, months of considering academic proposals and months spent mulling the impact of tech platforms on this and other violent events around the world, the group's policies have barely budged. On Monday, in a 177-page report, GIFCT released the first details of its plan, and, well, a radical rethinking of online extremism it is not. Instead, the report lays out a series of narrow steps that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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