More than 200 Google employees have formed the tech giant’s first-ever labour union – Alphabet Workers Union, named after Alphabet Inc. – the parent company of Google and several former Google subsidiaries.
The union was announced on January 4, 2020, with 226 of the group members signing cards with the Communications Workers of America (CMA) – one of the largest labour unions in the United States. There are currently more than 500 members in the union according to the official website of the union, and the website states that they are “an organization working to build a structure to create worker power”.
The leaders of the Alphabet Workers Union revealed the formation of the organization in a New York Times opinion piece – entitled “We built Google. This is not the company we want to work for.”, on January 4.
The leaders, Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw – Google software engineers and the union’s executive chair and vice-chair, said that the 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.” They also added that the organization will live by the motto – “Don’t be evil” – which used to be the motto of Google Inc.
“Each time workers organize to demand change, Alphabet’s executes make token promises, doing the bare minimum in the hopes of placating workers,” the leaders said. “It’s not enough.”
The announcement of the workers’ union has come weeks after Google fired a high-profile black AI ethics researcher back in early December last year which had sparked outrage among the company staff. Besides, there also has been considerable workers’ activism and internal protest over the last few years concerning the tech company’s business and operational decisions, handling of sexual misconduct claims, and retaliation of workers who speak out.
In response to the union establishment, Kara Silverstein, Google’s director of people operations, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce”. She also added, “Of course our employees have protected labour rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees”.
Alphabet Workers Union was founded primarily by software engineers and is open to all the employees in the company, including temporary workers and contractors, located all over the US and Canada. The union, as for now, is not seeking formal recognition from the federal government which will limit the organization from not possessing legally protected rights to action like collective bargaining.
Experts believe that the formation of the union could inspire employees at other tech companies.
Eleanor Bloxham, a corporate governance expert, called the union a “monumental achievement”, and said it could give workers at other companies like Facebook and Amazon a model to follow because they “see how it can be done.”
Communications Director of Communications Workers of America, Beth Allen said that the union “will provide a great example for other workers at other companies who might be interested in doing something similar.”