YouTube Music Employees Find Out They’ve Been Laid off in the Middle of City Council Meeting About Employment Rights

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Mar 10, 2024

During an Alphabet Workers Union speech at an Austin City Council meeting in Texas, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, laid off the YouTube Music team.

The news came as a shock as union members were pleading to the city council in Austin to set a vote on a resolution between the company and the union.

The Moment Workers Discovered They Were Laid Off

Some of the Alphabet workers discovered that the layoff was happening while speaking at the Austin City Council meeting. A viral video captures a team member running up to the union speaker and informing them and the city council that they laid them off.

Alphabet Workers Union working getting laid off at the Austin city council meeting

Source: Austin City Council

“We just got laid off, our jobs are ending today, effective immediately,” one worker tells the city council in the video of the meeting.

Who Are the YouTube Music Workers?

The Alphabet Workers Union-CWA represents the team consisting of moderators employed by Google contractor Cognizant in Austin. This group of contractors is responsible for approving music content for YouTube Music.

Headphones over a smartphone showing the YouTube logo on a yellow background

Source: Sanket Mishra/Pexels

According to a statement emailed to The Verge, Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini said, “Contracts with our suppliers across the country routinely end on their natural expiry date.”

The Workers Went on Strike Early in 2023

The team of 40+ workers went on strike in February 2023. The union was “demanding a return-to-work policy that’s “fair, flexible, and does not threaten the safety and livelihoods of workers,” according to an AWU press release (via The Verge).

A skeleton laying on a sidewalk wearing a red shirt with white lettering

Source: Alphabet Workers Union/X

The union claimed that many workers hired to work remotely received inadequate pay and argued that going to the office would incur excessive expenses.

Why Did the Union Go On Strike?

In a statement on X,  formerly known as Twitter, the union said that the YouTube Music team was receiving low pay. “Even as workers contribute to the success of the billion-dollar platform, they are paid as little as $19 an hour and receive minimal benefits,” the union said.

A large white building with a wooden sign with a blue sky in the background

Source: Shawn Collins/Flickr

The pay was so low that multiple members were working multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Google Pushed Back Against the Union

However, Google previously argued that it did not have to negotiate with the team at YouTube Music since they were not Google employees.

The glass skyscraper of the Google headquarters

Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRD) ruled that the company had to negotiate with the team back in March 2023 because the company controlled benefits, hours of work, and the direction of the contractors’ work.


Cognizant Explains Why They Laid Off YouTube Music Workers

Cognizant, a professional service company contracted by Alphabet for the YouTube Music team, stated that they let go of the workers after the contract ended as planned.

The headquarters of Cognizant at night

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Jeff DeMarrais, the Cognizant chief communications officer, said that they would give the workers seven weeks of pay and opportunities to find another role (via The Verge).


The Union Workers Speak Out

“This is devastating. We have been fighting for years now to get Google, one of the most powerful and well-resourced companies in the world, to negotiate with us so that we could make a living in exchange for the work we do to make their products better,” contractor and union member Jack Benedict said in a statement.

The team members in the Alphabet Workers Union posing with their fist up

Source: Alphabet Workers Union/X

Benedict continued: “It is disgusting that Google has taken this path when confronted with its workers’ modest demands to be treated fairly on the job.”


Silicon Valley Is Looking for Change at Google

The layoffs come as Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai faces outcry for his resignation. Ben Thompson, an analyst and the author of the “Stratechery” newsletter, wrote that Google needed to transform after several mishaps, including Gemini’s recent controversy.

Source: fauxels/Pexels

This transformation would “mean removing those who let the former run amok, up to and including CEO Sundar Pichai.”


Who Is Sundar Pichai?

In 2015, Google appointed Pichai as CEO, and in 2019, Alphabet did the same. Throughout his tenure, he has proven to be a strong CEO. He has been protecting Google’s prized search business while dealing with regulators.

A man in a blue shirt standing in front of a white wall with the Google logo

Source: Sam Churchill/Flickr

While Pichai has brought Google’s market cap up from $400 billion to around $1.7 trillion, many in Silicon Valley feel like it is time for a change.


Is the Right Team Managing Google? 

Pichai and Google are feeling the pressure from growing competition from the innovations in artificial intelligence (AI). Unfortunately, Google hasn’t been able to keep up with the changing landscape of AI.

A woman using a VR headset while working on multiple laptops

Source: ThisIsEngineering/Pexels

“The most recent saga only further raises increasingly louder questions around whether this is the right management team to guide Google into this next era,” Thompson wrote.


This Is a Bad Look for the Companies

Whatever the technicalities and legalities behind the YouTube Music workers axing is, it comes as a shock since, especially since it happened during the unions pleads to the Austin city council.

A red background with a white speech bubble with black text

Source: Alphabet Workers Union/X

This is a bad look for YouTube, Cognizant, and Google as they prepare to go through possible changes in leadership.