A National Labor Relations Board regional director ruled March 3 that Alphabet, the parent company of Google, should be recognized as a joint employer of certain YouTube workers subcontracted through New Jersey-based IT services giant Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. As a result, Google must collectively bargain with the workers if they vote to unionize.

The Alphabet Workers Union, which represents contingent and directly employed workers at Google, had filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB against both Alphabet and Cognizant. The charge was filed on behalf of 58 YouTube music content operations workers who filed for union recognition from the NLRB as members of the Alphabet Workers Union on Oct. 21, 2022. The union said workers were being forced to return to Google’s Austin, Texas, office after two years of successfully working from home. It noted that most workers were hired remotely, and nearly a quarter of workers are not based in Texas.

Cognizant and Google maintain that Google is not a joint employer. Throughout the hearing and in its post-hearing brief, Google moved that it be dismissed from the petition, according to the ruling by NLRB Regional Director Timothy Watson.

However, Google “exercises direct and immediate control over benefits, hours of work, supervision, and direction of work,” Watson wrote. “To a lesser extent, Google also exercises control over unit employees’ wages by setting minimum standards. Based on the totality of the circumstances, I find that Cognizant and Google are joint employers. As such, I deny Google’s Motion to Dismiss.”

The ruling means that Google would need to negotiate with workers there should they vote to approve a union, according to Axios. If upheld, the decision is a big win for the Alphabet Workers Union, which has generally served not as an official bargaining union for Google workers but rather as a minority union, Axios reported.

“We are reviewing the decision by the NLRB regional director, but disagree with the finding,” Cognizant stated. Google also strongly disagrees with the decision and plans to appeal.

“We are confident the facts and law clearly support our position,” Google spokesperson Courtenay Mencini said in a statement. “We simply don’t control these workers’ employment terms or working conditions.”

The issue goes beyond Google or even the tech industry. Companies in healthcare, hospitality, construction and other fields are increasingly turning to franchised, freelance or subcontracted staff — spurring controversies about how those workers are treated, according to an article by Fortune and Bloomberg.

The AWU, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, has also filed a still-pending complaint with the NLRB accusing Alphabet and Cognizant of responding to the union campaign by making threats, transferring work abroad and using new return-to-office rules to try to derail organizing. Cognizant has said the allegations have “no merit,” the article stated. Workers have been on strike for the past month over the dispute.