Pittsburgh workers at Google contractor HCL, who work side-by-side with direct-hire Google employees, won an important victory this week in the fight for safe work during the coronavirus epidemic: the right to work remotely.
Directly-employed Google workers in Pittsburgh were placed on remote work on March 10, but the HCL workers received no such instruction.
Six days later, the HCL workers, members of UNI-affiliated United Steelworkers (USW), wore black in solidarity with other tech workers forced to report to their offices during the pandemic—a collective action which garnered support from tech activists around the country and was covered by the press. They were ultimately successful, and on March 16, HCL agreed to a remote work arrangement for its Pittsburgh employees, at least until April 10.
Before this victory, workers were facing the cruel choice of staying home without pay or going to work where they could spread or contract the virus.
As early as January, the HCL workers outside the United States were being moved to remote work. When an employee in the Zurich operations of their client company, Google, contracted COVID-19, the HCL workers learned firsthand that Google had put a contingency plan in place for all its full-time, direct hire employees.
The HCL workers recently became members of USW after winning union recognition in an election where the HCL management aggressively opposed unionization and employed a union-busting firm to undermine the workers’ collective efforts. With a newly formed union in place, the worksite union leaders sounded the alarm early on during negotiation meetings. Still, the company was unwilling to take measures to place the workers on remote work.
USW worked tirelessly with the new workplace leaders to demand paid time off or remote work to avoid coronavirus infection. They also supported the workers in contacting the press and reaching out to a coalition of tech activists working to support the demands of temporary, vendor and contract workers (TVCs) in similar situations in tech companies across the United States.
The HCL workers’ fight for remote work during the coronavirus crises exposes the hidden failings of the tech industry to protect its workers. Thousands of temporary, vendor and contract workers work side-by-side with the full-time employees of the tech giants like Google and Facebook, yet they receive lower pay and fewer benefits, and have no recourse with the tech giants who hide behind the excuse that they are not the direct employer.
In recent years tech workers globally have begun to assert their collective power around the disparities between the contract and the direct hire workforces, and other issues in the industry. USW and other UNI Global Union affiliates in the ICTS sector have joined forces with tech workers to support their organizing and movement-building in one of the world’s fastest growing sectors.
Photo credit: Sarah L Wilson Photography