The Alphabet Workers Union, a recently formed organization that represents workers of all categories at Google, announced last week it filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board against Modis Engineering, a division of Adecco that provides data center services for Google.

The complaint alleges Modis prohibited workers from discussing wages and retaliated against AWU member Shannon Wait for protected concerted activity and union support. Alphabet and Google were included in the complaint as joint employers.

Shannon Wait, a technician working at a Google data center in Berkeley County, South Carolina, was suspended Jan. 28 after she complained on behalf of herself and other workers about conditions at the center, including a prohibition on speaking about salaries and a refusal by management to replace damaged water bottles for workers, the union said. Workers at the data center move heavy computer equipment, perform hardware maintenance, swap computer components, and perform other manual labor. According to Wait, workers at the center have seen their daily repairs double during the pandemic, increasing safety concerns.

The union said Wait was questioned by a Modis supervisor about a personal Facebook post in which Wait had expressed concerns about management’s failure to replace the water bottles and her support for the Alphabet Workers Union. The same supervisor previously sent an electronic message directing Wait not to discuss wages with her co-workers when she began asking questions about why some workers did not receive a promised bonus. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees have a legally protected right to discuss their conditions of employment, including wages and salaries, the union said.

“As joint employers are responsible, both individually and jointly, to employees for compliance with worker protection laws it is common for both the provider and the hirer to be the subject of a complaint,” says Fiona Coombe, director of legal and regulatory research, SIA. “Fear of creating a joint employment scenario may mean that buyers do not treat their contingent workers in the same way as their own employees, but the engagement of contingent workers through a staffing agency will usually give rise to co-employment regardless, as the buyer usually exerts control over a worker’s work schedule and job duties.”

Alphabet is the parent company of Google. The union was announced in January and aimed to include all types of workers from directly hired to contingent.