- More contractors for the Alphabet subsidiary Google plan to demand increased pay this week.
- Google “raters” who test and evaluate search quality say they aren’t fairly compensated.
- The fresh demands come amid mass layoffs and numerous advertising headwinds for the search giant.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, faces another challenge from its contract workforce after the union representing it announced dozens of workers would participate in an action Wednesday calling for an end to “poverty wages.”
Called “raters,” these workers are part of a team at Google tasked with providing feedback to the company’s artificial intelligence to improve the effectiveness of search rankings and ads. They work for third-party firms, including Appen’s RaterLabs. This means the raters are not technically Google employees, even though they are tasked with improving its services.
In this latest action, workers in the Alphabet Workers Union have organized a visit to Google’s headquarters to deliver a petition addressed to Prabhakar Raghavan, the senior vice president at Google overseeing search. The petition will demand that the company compensate its raters in line with the minimums the company previously set for its extended workforce.
In 2019, Alphabet enacted a policy requiring that contracting firms working for the company pay staff a minimum wage of $15 an hour, on top of various benefits. The AWU says rater pay increased from $10 to $14 or $14.50 an hour after it met with RaterLabs late last year, but Google has implemented loopholes to prevent workers from receiving more, such as by capping working hours and not providing them with “@google.com” email accounts.
Alphabet declined to comment. RaterLabs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“This action from the AWU is a small but important step in holding management to account,” Wendy Liu, a former Googler who has advocated for tech unionization, told Insider. “Layoffs and erosions of working standards for one set of workers could very well be imposed on another set tomorrow.”
Formed in January 2021, the AWU represents more than 1,500 workers across Alphabet’s various divisions, including those employed by the company directly and people from contracting firms.
Just last week, the AWU filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board regarding Alphabet and the contracting firm Cognizant’s treatment of YouTube Music contract workers, who have been ordered to return to the office in Austin, Texas, starting Monday. Contractors say this move was made in retaliation to the group voting in favor of organizing with the AWU. Cognizant denied the claim.
The actions by the AWU come at a fraught time for Alphabet. Besieged by cooling demand for search advertisements, Alphabet announced layoffs of 12,000 employees in January. Executives will take major cuts to their bonuses, CEO Sundar Pichai told employees at an internal all-hands meeting.
The activist investor TCI said last week that Alphabet’s 12,000 head-count reduction didn’t go far enough and that the company should cut further, while addressing the “excessive” compensation of remaining employees. At the end of the third quarter of 2022, Alphabet reported it employed 186,779 people. TCI said it should cut its workforce to about 150,000 employees.
Unions are rare in the tech industry, as workers are accustomed to high compensation and lavish perks. Now many tech workers have considered joining unions as mass layoffs have swept the industry in recent months. Whispers of unionization have lately floated around other major tech giants, including Amazon, as workers fear more turbulence. In 2021, tech workers at The New York Times formed a union.
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