HR Policy Association

New Google Union Argues Tech Giant Jointly Liable for Labor Law Violations

Published on: February 5, 2021

Authors: Gregory Hoff

Topics: Employment Law

The newly formed Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) has filed its first unfair labor practice charge, claiming that Google is jointly liable for alleged National Labor Relations Act violations by a staffing vendor.

The complaint names Google, its parent company Alphabet, and Adecco Staffing as joint employers, with sufficient control over the group of workers to be liable for the alleged unfair labor practices of Modis Engineering, a Google data center services subcontractor.  Adecco Staffing is the parent company of Modis.

The complaint alleges that Modis management suspended an employee, who is an AWU member, after the employee complained on Facebook about working conditions at the data center.  In the Facebook post, the employee specifically complained that management refused to replace damaged water bottles for workers.  The complaint further alleges that the employee previously received messages from management not to discuss wages with her co-workers after she began asking why some workers did not receive a promised bonus.

Parul Koul, AWU’s executive chair, and a Google software engineer, said the circumstances outlined in the complaint are reflective of the “massive double standard” between the treatment of Alphabet and Google’s direct employees and the numerous staff utilized through subcontractors such as Modis.  

Outlook:  The complaint is notable for being both the first to be filed by AWU and for its theory of joint employer liability.  If the union is successfully able to argue that Alphabet and Google are liable for these kinds of actions from its subcontractors, it could open the door to a wide variety of alleged unfair labor practices stemming from subcontractors lobbed at the deeper pockets of Alphabet and Google, or any larger employer with third party supplier or subcontractor relationships.  While Republican appointees enjoy a majority on the National Labor Relations Board through the end of 2021, it is expected that upon Democrats taking control, a much broader joint employer standard will be established that is much more amenable to the kinds of complaints filed by AWU here.