As Google Fiber contractors in Kansas City attempt to become the first members of the Alphabet Workers Union to win bargaining power, workers there are facing a union-busting effort by their contracting firm.
The contractors are employed directly by BDS Connected Solutions and work in a retail store for Google Fiber, the project that provides high-speed internet access to 19 U.S. markets, according to its website. Kansas City was Google Fiber’s first outpost.
Last month, workers at the Google Fiber location petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for formal union recognition after Google and BDS didn’t voluntarily agree to allow it. One staffer told CNBC that BDS had made changes to their pay structure and removed some of the helpful Covid-19 protections like gloves, sanitization shields and partitions.
The NLRB set the hearing date for Feb. 10, to confirm eligibility of union votes, which would precede an election, according to a filing viewed by CNBC.
Leading up to the vote, workers say they received a letter from BDS last week strongly discouraging them from continuing with their unionization effort.
“I want to make the Company’s position on this matter clear,” Marco Morin, BDS’ national operations manager, wrote in the letter, which was obtained by CNBC. “We do not believe that it is in the best interest of our employees to unionize at this time. If the union comes in, they will force you to pay dues or fees. We do not believe that bringing in an outside organization to represent you is necessary.”
Should the union get a majority of votes in the election, it will be certified by the NLRB, making it the first group of Alphabet Workers Union members with official rights to bargain with leadership.
While the Google Fiber location in Kansas City employs just 12 people, excluding temp workers, its unionization drive is part of a broader movement in the tech industry that’s slowing gaining momentum.
In 2019, 80 Google contractors in Pittsburgh joined the United Steelworkers Union, and in November of last year, over 100 workers for a Google staffing firm named Modis recovered hazard pay following organization efforts.
Meanwhile, Amazon workers across several locations are trying to unionize, including at a warehouse in Alabama, where they’re set to vote for a second time on whether to form a union. The first attempt failed last year after after the NLRB ruled Amazon improperly interfered in the election.
The Alphabet Workers Union, the first union formed by company employees, was created a year ago amid increased tensions between workers and leadership. It now has more than 800 members, who pay 1% of their total compensation in dues, the organization said. However, it operates as a “minority union” model, meaning it doesn’t have bargaining rights with leadership.
Even if the Kansas City Google workers are successful, bargaining rights would only apply to their group. But the victory would be a first for the Google union in obtaining negotiating leverage, and could potentially motivate other groups of workers to pursue their own elections.
In the letter to the Google Fiber contractors, Morin warned employees that “everyone will be stuck with the union and forced to pay dues” if the majority of voters chose to unionize. He said “Missouri is not a right-to-work” state, meaning employees wouldn’t have a choice in joining the union.
Mike Knox, an employee at the Google Fiber location, told CNBC that BDS’ tactics are upsetting.
“The letter kind of threw us a bit because they had never seemed to care about our pay before that,” Knox said. “Our petition specifically asked they not try and use any union-busting tactics but that letter was confirmation that it wasn’t going to happen.”
Knox said he loves the Google Fiber product and enjoys his job. But during the pandemic, employees have had to consistently deal with impromptu business changes and understaffing. They’ve been asking Alphabet and BDS for help.
“We handle a lot of customer equipment, a lot of customers want to shake our hand and Covid spreads so easily,” Knox said. “People working twice as hard, it’s been very stressful.”
The Alphabet Workers Union told CNBC that nine of the 12 Google Fiber workers in Kansas City are members of the Google union. In a statement, the union said it stands “shoulder to shoulder with the Kansas City workers.”
“We are deeply disappointed that management at BDS Connected Solutions, a critical subcontractor of Google Fiber, has refused to commit to a fair and transparent union election process,” the union said. “We call on Alphabet, Google and BDS Connected Solutions to commit to a fair union election process and end the use of union-busting practices.”
CNBC reached out to multiple BDS employees, including a director of marketing, for comment, but didn’t receive a response. Google didn’t respond with a comment by the time of publication.