A group of 226 engineers and other Google workers have formed a union, according to an article and opinion piece in the New York Times. Called the Alphabet Workers Union, it is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America and was organized in secret over the last year or so.
“We are joining together — temps, vendors, contractors, and full-time employees — to create a unified worker voice,” wrote Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, the executive chair and vice chair of the Alphabet Workers Union. “We want Alphabet to be a company where workers have a meaningful say in decisions that affect us and the societies we live in.”
The union represents a small minority of the company’s 260,000 strong employee and contractor workforce. However, unlike traditional unions, the new group won’t just do contract negotiations, but advocate for a more just work environment. “Our union will work to ensure that workers know what they’re working on, and can do their work at a fair wage, without fear of abuse, retaliation or discrimination,” Koul and Shaw wrote.
The Alphabet Workers Union “will be open to all Alphabet workers, regardless of classification,” they said, adding that half of Google’s workers are temps, vendor and contractors who often receive lower salaries, fewer benefits and have less stability. “They are also more likely to be Black or brown — a segregated employment system that keeps half of the company’s work force in second-class roles. Our union will seek to undo this grave inequity,” according to the group.
When Google went public in 2004, it said it would be a company that “does good things for the world even if we forgo some short-term gains.” Its motto used to be “Don’t be evil.”
Silicon Valley companies like Google and Uber have resisted tech industry unionization, saying they prefer to deal with employees on an individual basis. Google has been accused of by several former employees of retaliation over union activities, while the company said they violated data security policies. Last month, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accused Google of illegally firing two workers who took part in labor organizing activities.
The new union noted that Google employee organization has provoked changes in the past. Google dropped its plans for the Project Maven AI Pentagon program and censored Chinese search engine Project Dragonfly after employees walked out. More recently, the company faced heat for the firing of ethical artificial intelligence researcher Timnit Gebru. That provoked a backlash among employees and a demand for changes, along with pressure from lawmakers to address the situation.
In response to the news, Google director of people operations Kara Silverstein gave the following statement to the NYT: “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our work force. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”