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Google accused of firing AI contract staff in ‘retaliatory’ move against unionizing

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The Alphabet Workers Union have accused Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Accenture of breaching federal labor laws following the contract termination of a large chunk of their employees.

Google and Accenture operate a joint venture with employees working on improving Google’s search engine and artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot. According to a Bloomberg report, Accenture moved to terminate the employment contracts of over 70% of the joint venture employees.

The latest job cuts affect 118 roles, including graphic designers and writers responsible for creating internal and external Google content. Affected employees say the terminations were announced via a live-streamed town hall meeting without giving attendees opportunity to ask questions or share comments.

Affected employees say the company’s move was “retaliatory” to their decision to unionize in line with the provisions of U.S. laws. The Alphabet Workers Union has since filed a complaint with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, claiming unfair business practices on the part of the technology giants.

“It’s obvious that this timing is incredibly suspicious, and that is why we are filing an unfair labor practice charge — to hold Google and Accenture accountable for their behavior,” said Anjail Muhammad, one of the affected employees.

Under federal labor laws, employers are barred from threatening employees with consequences for unionizing and cannot offer incentives to staff for opting out of organizing.

Although Accenture severed the employment contracts, the filing with the National Labor Relations Board suggests that the affected individuals seek to rope in Google’s parent company in their claims. They argue that the firm was a “joint employer,” but a Google spokesperson stated it “does not control their employment terms or working conditions.”

On the other hand, Accenture claimed that the job cuts were not retaliatory and reiterated its support for the right of employees to create unions.

“As conveyed to our people recently, these workforce decisions were made prior to any notification to us of potential union activity,” said Accenture in a statement.

Google has had its fair share of layoffs in 2023 after it terminated the contracts of 12,000 staff, citing grim macroeconomic factors.

Full speed ahead for AI

Despite the internal turmoil of layoffs and regulatory challenges, Google is throwing its weight behind AI innovation. After launching its regenerative AI chatbot Bard to challenge OpenAI’s ChatGPT, the tech giant has rolled out a series of AI offerings.

In June, Google launched an AI-powered anti-money laundering (AML) service to assist financial institutions in identifying transaction anomalies. A month later, the company teased a new AI tool dubbed Genesis designed to write news articles while announcing a restructuring of its AI research unit.

Given the risks posed by AI to Web3 and legacy finance, Google disclosed plans to align with regulators, offering U.K. administrators early and priority access to future products.

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