As Austin leaders were considering formal support for labor efforts between a local YouTube Music support team and their employers, Google and Cognizant Technology Solutions, the workers learned their contract had been ended during a Feb. 29 City Council meeting.

The move followed more than a year of unionization efforts by the Austin-based YouTube Music Content Operations Team, which is subcontracted by Cognizant under Google.

Council member Zo Qadri, who authored a resolution in support of the workers, criticized the update Feb. 29.

“Shame on Google for firing workers that work really hard, that were underpaid, that were treated badly, that acted in good faith and then were let go this morning," he said.

The National Labor Relations Board in January found Cognizant and Google had already engaged in unfair and illegal labor practices by refusing to bargain with the content team and ordered the employers to meet their workers at the negotiating table. Google contests the finding.

“As we’ve said before, we have no objection to these Cognizant employees electing to form a union. We simply believe it’s only appropriate for Cognizant, as their employer, to engage in collective bargaining," a Google spokesperson said. "We’re appealing the NLRB’s joint employer decision to federal court as Google does not control the employment terms or conditions of these Cognizant workers.”

Jack Benedict, a member of the union's organizing committee who'd been a contracted music generalist, said his team still plans to fight Google's action.

"We are absolutely not just going to take this and accept this. I think that would be a disservice to my coworkers and to other labor movements going on," he told Community Impact.

The big picture

The YouTube Music Content Operations Team, more than 40 workers who were based out of Cognizant offices in Austin's Tech Ridge, had been seeking to unionize since 2022, according to the Alphabet Workers Union.

Team members unanimously won their union election last April in response to their claims of minimal pay and benefits. They also called out what they described as a retaliatory in-person work policy intended to disrupt their organizing efforts as many staffers didn't live in Austin or Texas.

Despite the vote, workers said Google has failed to bargain with their union in violation of federal labor law.

The NLRB later found both Cognizant and Google to be joint employers of the Austin YouTube team and ordered the companies to stop avoiding negotiations. Google is seeking to reverse that decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit.

Since early 2023, the Alphabet Workers Union filed nearly a dozen federal unfair labor practice charges against Google and Cognizant over issues such as employee surveillance and coercion, discipline, retaliation and discharge, contract modifications, and their refusal to bargain.

"Retaliation and delays have been our employer’s strategy the whole time," Benedict said.

What happened

In response to Google's refusal to bargain and YouTube workers' assertions of lacking pay, job security and benefits, several council members supported Qadri's February resolution calling on the companies to negotiate with the union and improve their working conditions.

More broadly, the measure also noted City Council's commitment to supporting workers' rights and fair labor practices in Austin.

The resolution was on council's Feb. 29 agenda but was initially set to be postponed for later consideration. Benedict said the delay took place after lawyers representing Google contacted city officials shortly before the meeting.

Some representatives of the YouTube team appeared at City Hall to speak on the resolution and, while petitioning council, were informed they'd all lost their jobs.

"Not to interrupt, but they just laid us all off. Yeah, they just laid us all off. Our jobs are ended today, effective immediately," team member Katie-Marie Marschner informed council during her colleague's public testimony.
YouTube Music Content Operations Team members learned they'd been laid off while testifying for labor support from City Council. (Screenshot via city of Austin)
YouTube Music contractors and Alphabet Workers Union members Katie-Marie Marschner and Jack Benedict learned they'd lost their current jobs mid-testimony at City Council's Feb. 29 meeting. (Screenshot via city of Austin)
Benedict said the team was given "zero notice" about their contract's expiration despite previous assurances about the process from their leadership. He also said he now believes team members had been training their replacements abroad over their last few months of employment.

“We’re all totally shocked. We had absolutely no idea this was coming," he said. "We knew the contract would be up for renewal, but in all honesty I think we were under the impression that it was going to get renewed. We’d been told by upper management that if the contract was going to be cut, then there would've been a lot more noticeable preparations, and we would’ve gotten way more notice.”

The mid-meeting update led council members to reconsider and pass the resolution.

Qadri said he brought the item back for a vote given his view on the importance of the council dais standing up for Austin workers, including the YouTube team members who'd had their office access removed during the meeting.

Council approved the resolution in a 9-1 vote, with council member Mackenzie Kelly against.

“It is very sad that [the layoff] happened, if it did in fact," she said. "Entering today’s meeting I had already resolved to vote against [the resolution]. My consistent stance has been that the city should refrain from intervening in the affairs of private companies, which is a principle I uphold today."

What they're saying

Cognizant spokesperson Jeff DeMarrais said the employment decision had been planned for the conclusion of the team's contract work, and that the company could support workers after leaving their YouTube Music roles.

"As a professional services company, ramp-downs and ramp-ups of projects are a normal part of Cognizant’s business operations," DeMarrais said. "Our associates are at the heart of our business, and Cognizant has an established process for connecting associates with new opportunities across our global organization when these changes arise. These associates will become part of our deployable talent pool, better known as our ‘bench,’ where they are given seven weeks of dedicated, paid time to explore other roles within the organization and build new skills through our training ecosystem."

He also said the workers had not been laid off and have "an opportunity to redeploy" on the bench.
The YouTube Music Content Operations Team worked from Cognizant's Tech Ridge-area offices off Parmer Lane. (Chloe Young/Community Impact)
The YouTube Music Content Operations Team worked from Cognizant's Tech Ridge-area offices off Parmer Lane. (Chloe Young/Community Impact)
Google said the move was a standard contract matter and denied any motivation beyond a business decision.

“As we’ve shared before, these are not Google employees. Cognizant is responsible for these workers' employment terms, including staffing. As is the case here, contracts with our suppliers across the company routinely end on their natural expiry date, which was agreed to with Cognizant," the spokesperson said.

Benedict said some out-of-state team members had been offered a chance on the Cognizant bench last year after the in-person work mandate. However, he said the group hadn't received detailed information about the option or heard of anyone successfully finding employment through that process.

In a joint statement released Feb. 29, Qadri and council members Natasha Harper-Madison, Vanessa Fuentes, José Velásquez and Ryan Alter—all cosponsors of the measure—expressed their support for the YouTube workers and labor efforts in Austin overall.

“Austin is a union city, and as the sponsor of this resolution, I will always stand with labor. What happened today was unconscionable. ... [T]hose workers were paid below living wage in Austin, despite working for a multibillion-dollar Fortune 100 company. And now, without warning, they’ve lost their jobs. The Alphabet Workers Union-CWA has my full support," Qadri said.

He also said the matter is now out of City Council's hands and up to the courts and the NLRB, although his office would attempt to help affected workers.

The council release also stated some workers felt their housing security was at risk due to the sudden loss of their jobs, which they believed may have been in retaliation for speaking up at City Hall.

“It is all workers' fundamental right to organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions, and I applaud the local YouTube Music Content Operations Team for voting in favor of unionization and for taking the time to speak in front of City Council today," Alter said. "I was shocked and disappointed to hear of Google's decision to fire these employees in the middle of public testimony, and that action highlights the desperate needs for stronger worker protections here in Austin.”Benedict said, after previous victories, the Alphabet labor group has no plans to stop taking legal action.

“Even though [the council resolution was] symbolic, it still means a lot," he said. "As Google and Cognizant continue to ignore judicial rulings, all we can do is try to win in the court of public opinion, and this really helps us."

An NLRB spokesperson confirmed no new labor charges had been filed as of press time March 1.