Eighty Google contract workers in Pittsburgh employed by HCL America voted Tuesday to unionize with the United Steel Workers (USW). They will organize under the name Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals (PATP).
The vote to unionize passed, with 49 voting in favor of unionization and 24 voting against unionization.
Damon Di Cicco, organizer with the United Steelworkers, said that PATP was formed in conjunction with the Department for Professional Employees (DPE), a semi-autonomous branch of the AFL-CIO, representing more than four million professional, technical, and other highly skilled workers. The vote to unionize is historic for white collar tech workers, and could spur others in the industry to take similar action.
The idea, said Di Cicco, was to create an umbrella organization to facilitate organizing in the tech sector, and eventually to help tech locals coordinate and cooperate amongst themselves.
Di Cicco said the formation of PATP happened separately, but simultaneously, with the push to unionize by HCL workers. Now, the group has its first victory.
The vote comes despite attempts by HCL to prevent its employees from unionizing. Emails shared with Motherboard show that Jeremy Carlson, HCL America’s deputy general manager of operations sent at least a half-dozen emails to contractors in the two week period before the vote. Many of them urged employees not to unionize.
“The Steelworkers are typically ‘blue collar’ workers, not workers in a tech industry like us, and the overwhelming majority of the contracts they’ve negotiated are for employees working in industries completely unrelated to ours,” one of the emails reads. “Do you really think the Steelworkers understand our needs, our industry, our business, or even what you do on a daily basis? I don’t.”
“I truly believe that the best way forward for us is to work together with you and our leadership team—is without a union,” he continued. “Especially a union who doesn’t understand us, what we do, or how we work. While the Steelworkers may understand what steel workers need or how steel companies operate, the technology industry is different—and those differences make us unique.”
Other emails sent by Carlson suggest that groups that unionize with the United Steel Workers have “buyer’s remorse” and that decertifying a union is a difficult process: “If the Steelworkers win the election on September 24th, you should plan on the Steelworkers making decisions for you for years, even if you’re not happy about it.” Another email sent by Carlson one week before the vote alleged that the Steelworkers have a history of strikes, and that such action could have a deleterious effect on contractors: “Most of us would struggle to make ends meet if our paychecks stopped, and I wouldn’t want any of you to have to go through something like this,” he said, referring to the ongoing General Motors workers strike.
Reached by phone, Carlson said he couldn’t comment without permission from HCL’s PR department. Google and HCL America did not respond to a request for comment.
Motherboard interviewed more than a dozen Google contractors at HCL. These interviews reveal that workers—both those in favor of and against the union—are concerned that their wages are lower than official Google staffers.
According to a New York Times report, temp workers, vendors and employees contractors outnumber actual employees at Google. Worker castes can be determined by the color of their badges. Full-time Googlers have blue badges, while contractors have red badges.
The vote was scheduled after two-thirds of the approximately 80 Google contract workers with HCL signed cards in late August indicating their support for a union, according to USW.
In recent months, tech contractors have begun to flex their muscle. Google workers signed a petition that eventually lead to the tech behemoth dropping its work on Project Maven. Security workers have also organized, but instances of tech contractors themselves working to unionize have been few and far between.
Christian Sweeney, Deputy Organizing Director for AFL-CIO, said that his organization is proud of the work the labor movement has done historically with low wage and low-skilled workers, but in the past year especially there has been “a lot of militancy amongst pretty highly educated and high-skilled workers,” everyone from video game workers to university researchers.
Today’s effort, he says, “It’s not a big surprise; we’ve seen this trend emerging.”
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