In a contentious move, Google has reportedly terminated the contract of a team of contractors who went on a prolonged strike, according to claims made by the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA.

The affected workers, employed by Google contractor Cognizant in Austin, Texas, were responsible for moderating and approving music content for YouTube Music. The union alleges that the decision to cut ties with the team came in response to their strike actions.

Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini, in a statement to The Verge, asserted that the decision did not originate from Google but rather from Cognizant. Mencini stated, “Contracts with our suppliers across the country routinely end on their natural expiry date.”

The strike, which commenced in February of the previous year, was initiated to demand changes to Google’s return-to-work policy. The union highlighted the financial burden of office attendance for workers who were initially hired to work remotely, some earning as little as $19 per hour.

Despite Google’s previous stance that it was not obligated to negotiate with the contractors as they were not direct employees, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled otherwise in March 2023. The NLRB determined that Google’s control over benefits, work hours, and task directives classified it as a partial employer. This decision was upheld by the NLRB in January of this year, though Google has the option to appeal to federal court.

Contractor and union member Jack Benedict expressed dismay over Google’s actions, stating, “This is devastating.” Benedict emphasized the ongoing struggle to compel Google to recognize and negotiate with its workers for fair treatment.

The case with YouTube Music contractors is not isolated, as the NLRB similarly ruled that Google could be considered a partial employer for unionized contractors with Accenture, who worked on Google Search and pre-rebrand Bard. This underscores a broader dispute regarding the employment status and rights of contracted workers within the tech giant’s ecosystem.