‘Not to interrupt, but they just laid us all off’: Unionised YouTube workers in Texas are told in the middle of a live City Council meeting that they don’t have jobs anymore

YouTube Music contractors were informed mid-speech, during a publicly-recorded and broadcast meeting with the City Council of Austin, Texas that they’d just lost their jobs. 

“To be supported by the city of Austin, and also our allies in the labour community—[it] gives us the motivation to keep this fight going,” says Jack Benedict as he speaks to the council—though he trails off as he turns to his co-worker Katie Marie Marschner, approaching the podium. Composing herself, Marschner then says: “Not to interrupt but they just laid us all off.”

this is the exact moment our coworkers found out we had been laid off while speaking in front of city council pic.twitter.com/IcsCszGe3ZMarch 1, 2024

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“As I was sat behind him, filming him, I got a text message from my co-worker letting them know that they had all just been laid off in our weekly team meeting,” says Marschner in a later video posted to the union’s Twitter account.

The council was set to consider and pass a resolution that would call on Google to bargain with the group of contractors, a group that Google maintains should be bargaining with “their employer” Cognizant instead. Cognizant is partnered with Google as part of a dedicated “Google Cloud Business Group”. 

Staggeringly, this is despite a ruling by the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) back in January which stated that Google’s refusal to bargain with the workers was, in fact, illegal. The contractors had formally voted to join the Alphabet Worker’s Union April 2023, just shy of a year prior.

This group—formerly composed of around 49 employees—cited minimal benefits and low pay, as well as a return-to-office order as reasons for both unionisation and strikes in Feburary. “Many workers are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet,” reads a statement later made by the Union. 

The statement also explains that: “Workers began an Unfair Labour Practice strike on February 3, 2023 in response to a retaliatory return-to-work mandate … Workers joined the strike because their only other option was ‘voluntary termination’ for being unable to physically show up at the office. Many workers either live across state lines or are not paid enough to afford the associated expenses with in-person work, like gas and childcare costs. While dozens of local workers returned to work, several out of state workers maintained the strike.”

In a statement sent to 404media and several other press organisations, Google argues that the layoffs occurred on the contractor’s normal expiry date. The statement reads: “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.”

A report from the Washington Post paints a less amicable, expected picture of the layoffs themselves—which claim an expiration that was far from natural: “Sam Regan, a data analyst contractor for YouTube Music, was at the office when the layoff hit. The mood was suspicious, he said, as security guards joined a short morning meeting where company leaders ‘coldly’ informed workers that their project was being cut. Workers had about 20 minutes to gather their belongings and leave the premises before they were considered trespassing.”

A video on TikTok was later confirmed by Marschner to have come from inside the office. “In that meeting, [they] watched the wifi get cut, watched their access get cut to Gmail,” Masrchner maintains that the layoffs were nonetheless unexpected. “On my team we were working on our most important workflow (I work on the charts team) … it’s like the most crucial forward-facing team in our whole department.”  


♬ original sound – Heavyartillerybeatz

The union concludes its statement as follows: “The layers of subcontracting are a mechanism by which Google distances itself from its responsibilities to its workers … The NLRB found that Google has control over workers and their working conditions and is thus obligated to directly negotiate with their union.”

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