Caught on camera | Watch the moment YouTube contractors discover they are laid off whilst lobbying for union support

Watch the moment YouTube contractors discover they are laid off whilst lobbying for union support

A YouTube Music contractor was encouraging Austin City Council to push Google to enter union negotiations when his colleague interrupted him with the news that their entire 43-person team had been laid off.

The meeting, which took place on February 29, was live streamed by the city council and captured the scene as it unfolded.

Jack Benedict, a YouTube data analyst and member of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU-ACA), was addressing Austin City Council ahead of a vote on a resolution that would call on Alphabet to negotiate with the union when a (now ex-) colleague, Katie Marschner, broke the news.

“Sorry to interrupt but they just laid us all off," Marschner announced. “Our jobs are ended today, effective immediately.”

Benedict paused before speaking to the council. “I guess we just all got laid off,” he reiterated. The council then informed him he was out of time with his speech but stated they would follow up on the news.

The AWU-ACA, writing on X, confirmed the news that “Google informed workers on the YouTube Music team that they would be laid off, hours before a scheduled vote by the Austin City Council.”

It also reiterated its criticisms of Alphabet’s treatment of contractors on the YouTube Music teams, including low pay: “These workers unanimously won their union election in April 2023. In response Google has publicly stated it would not engage in bargaining with them. The NLRB has ruled that Google’s continued refusal to bargain with these workers is unlawful.

“The YouTube Music team is based out of Austin. Even as workers contribute to the success of the billion dollar platform, they are paid as little as $19 dollars an hour and receive minimal benefits. Many workers are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.”

In April 2023, contractors working on the YouTube Music content operations teams voted to join the AWU-ACA. “No one working for a multi-billion-dollar platform should have to juggle three jobs to make ends meet, and no one should have to give up their livelihoods due to a retaliatory return-to-office mandate,” a worker said at the time.

Google and Cognizant have been in a long-running stand-off with the National Labor Relations Board about who is responsible for bargaining with workers on the YouTube Music content operations team. On January 3, the NLRB announced a decision rejecting Google's claim that it isn’t a joint employer of contractors on the team and pushed both companies to enter negotiations with the workers.

This followed a one-day strike from YouTube Music contractors in September 2023 over the lack of bargaining from both companies. Cognizant contractors also previously went on a month-long strike in February over its return-to-office policies.

However, the decision is still going through the process of appeal, and Google continues to assert it is not responsible for negotiations. “We have no objection to these Cognizant employees electing to form a union,” says a spokesperson for Google. “We simply believe it’s only appropriate for Cognizant, as their employer, to engage in collective bargaining.”

Cognizant also offered comment, speaking to Fox, rejecting any claims of foul play and stating this was routine, albeit coincidental, end of contract. “This contract ended at its planned expiration date," says its spokesperson. "Cognizant has an established process for connecting associates with new opportunities across our global organization when these changes arise." 

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"It was at that standing meeting when employees were notified of the expired contract and they were notified how to set up for retraining and possible redeployment on another Cognizant project."

However, contractors on the YouTube contract team argue the process was far from standard practice.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Benedict says he was speechless and shocked. “I didn’t know what to do,” he admits. “But angered, that was the main feeling.”

Another employee, Sam Regan, suggests the subsequent exit process was quick and poorly managed, claiming the contractors were only given 20 minutes to gather belongings and leave. Regan even alleges a security guard contacted the police on a non-emergency line to report trespassers.

“It was simply one of the most dehumanizing experiences of my life,” he adds.

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