Earlier this month, a group of workers who help train Google’s AI systems filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that their employer, a Google contractor called Appen, had illegally fired them for speaking out about labor conditions.
Now, according to the Alphabet Workers Union which represents the group, as well as documentation reviewed by Fast Company, the workers have been notified by Appen that they will be reinstated with back pay.
“Holy cow! This was unexpected,” says Ed Stackhouse, one of the Appen workers who had been terminated after petitioning the company for increased wages, among other things. “It’s clear when workers organize that we have real power, and I encourage more colleagues to join us so that we continue to ensure all Google workers have the protections we need on the job.”
Appen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Stackhouse was part of a group of employees who successfully pushed for a pay raise from Appen last year. But while the group had asked Appen for a $15 hourly rate—the same rate that Google requires some other contracting firms to pay their employees—the most Appen would agree to was a $14 or $14.50 rate, depending on how long workers had been with the company.
The workers had continued pushing for additional rights, including access to human resources contacts and clarity on management hierarchies. Then, just after Memorial Day, six Appen raters, including some of those who had been advocating for these changes, were terminated in an email citing “business conditions” as the cause of the firings.
But on Friday, Appen sent another email to the terminated raters, which read in part, “We have determined that some recent reductions of our workforce were not necessary and can be reversed.” The email said the company would ensure the workers “receive retroactive payment for the period during which you were temporarily away.”
Another of the once-terminated AI raters, Michelle Curtis, said in a statement that while she’s happy to have her job back, she’s also eager to continue pushing the company for more rights for raters. “We’re ready to get back to work and to continue building our union,” Curtis says.