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Google Fiber Workers to Vote Next Month on Unionization

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(Bloomberg) -- Alphabet Inc. sub-contracted workers at a Google Fiber retail store in Missouri will vote next month on whether to unionize, the U.S. labor board announced Thursday.

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Ballots will be mailed March 4, the National Labor Relations Board said. The original petition last month from the Alphabet Workers Union asked the labor board to deem Alphabet a “joint employer” of the roughly dozen Google Fiber staff the union seeks to represent.

If the union had prevailed the internet giant would have been legally required to collectively bargain over those workers’ conditions. But the union withdrew that petition to speed up the process and filed a new one seeking negotiations only with BDS Solutions Group, the vendor that officially employs them, Beth Allen, a spokesperson for the Communications Workers of America, said last month.

“We have many contracts with both unionized and non-union suppliers, and respect their employees’ right to choose whether or not to join a union, just as we do for these employees,” Alphabet said in a statement, adding that the vote is “a matter between” BDS and CWA. “We expect all our suppliers to treat and pay their employees fairly, whether they are unionized or not,” Alphabet said.

The treatment of contract workers, who in 2018 became the majority of Alphabet’s global workforce, has been a persistent flashpoint for worker activism at the company and a focus of AWU, a CWA affiliate that launched publicly a year ago. Some of Alphabet’s contract workers have formally organized with other unions in recent years and won collective bargaining agreements with the vendors they worked for, including Google Shopping analysts in Pennsylvania and cafeteria workers in California.

“We provide a vital service to Alphabet and deserve a protected voice on the job in order to negotiate the fair wages, benefits and protections we deserve,” employee Jason Guffey said in a statement from the union. The group urged Alphabet to instruct BDS “to commit to a fair election in order to ensure that workers can freely exercise their rights.”

The Google Fiber workers are the first to petition to be formally represented by the AWU, which has been focusing on tackling issues via collective action, advocacy campaigns and legal complaints rather than seeking collective bargaining.

BDS didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry. In a message to employees from BDS management that AWU shared on Twitter this week, the company said, “We do not believe that it is in the best interest of our employees to unionize at this time.”

Alphabet once invested heavily in Google Fiber, which competes with major cable providers, but the company cut that spending around 2018 and has largely halted the service’s expansion into new markets. The division doesn’t share its sales.

(Updates with statement from union in the sixth paragraph.)

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