AUSTIN (KXAN) — YouTube Music workers went on strike Friday in response to a mandatory “return to office” order, which they say was never part of the job.

The workers claim the order is an attempt by Cognizant, the Google sub-contractor who employs the YouTube Music workers, to weaken union support ahead of an unionization vote that would organize them under the Communications Workers of America.

“In an act of retaliation against our organizing efforts, our employer is forcing an end to remote work before the vote, which would dramatically interfere with the fair voting conditions mandated by federal law,” said Sam Regan, a music generalist at YouTube Music, during a press conference on Friday. “Many of us live out of state, many more live outside Austin and as contract workers under Google’s two-tiered system. All of us are so underpaid that we cannot afford the gas, childcare and skyrocketing local rent that would be required for us to work at the physical location.”

Regan said the team’s remote work culture is “rich and wonderful,” and their performance metrics show their success. He also claimed Cognizant CEO Ravi Kumar previously had “publicly emphasized the effectiveness of remote work.”

KXAN reached out to Google and Cognizant for comment on the strike. Cognizant provided a statement to multiple other media outlets:

“Cognizant respects the right of our associates to disagree with our policies, and to protest them lawfully. However, it is disappointing that some of our associates have chosen to strike over a return to office policy that has been communicated to them repeatedly since December 2021. Associates working on this project accepted their employment with the understanding that they were accepting in-office positions, and that the team would work together at a physical location based in Austin.”

Cognizant PR statement

YouTube Music subject matter expert Katie Marschner said remote work allowed her and her coworkers to have side jobs in order to make ends meet.

“90% of us have never worked in the office. To say that we can’t do this job effectively when we’ve been doing it effectively for three years is disingenuous at best,” Marschner said. “I was pretty happy doing my job remote. Definitely thought the pay could be better, but you know, having my second job, I was able to make things work.”

Marschner, a member of the Alphabet Worker’s Union, said 80% of her coworkers are ready to vote to unionize. In her time organizing her own workplace, she learned a lot about the process.

“It really all comes down to genuine relationships with your coworkers. That was the scariest part for me starting out, since we were all remote,” Marschner said. “It actually ended up being the most beautiful part of this whole process; getting to know everybody, getting to know their unique stories.”

Marschner’s advice to others is to approach organizing with an open heart, “because that’s what it takes to actually collectively organize people.”

This strike is the third by the Alphabet Workers Union, organized under the Communications Workers of America. The other two strikes began in California and New York over mass layoffs and low wages.

Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy speaking into a microphone at a strike.
Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy spoke to striking workers outside of Google’s Austin office. (Courtesy Alphabet Workers Union)

The Texas AFL-CIO also came to the strike to support the workers, and Rick Levy, president of Texas AFL-CIO, voiced the federation’s support for the strike.

“With the stroke of a pen, some billionaire decides that all of your lives are going to be turned upside down and you don’t have a voice,” Levy said. ” And I will say that you are not alone in that. There are so many people who experienced that every day, who don’t have a voice at work.”

City of Austin councilmember Zohaib Qadri also spoke at the event and said he and his staff, who have their own union. stood in solidarity with the striking workers.

“It’s so very important that companies that are behind us remember that it’s people that that make them what they are, and to do right by people is the most important thing. The right to unionize is something that every individual should have,” Qadri said. “We should strive, as a city, to make sure that Austin is a welcoming city, is a city that works for its workers and has lived up to its values of being a union city.”