Left forays into Tech companies – Google workers, demanding change at work, Launch a ‘First of its Kind’ Union in the Silicon Valley

  • A union called the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) has been formed with more than 400 Google engineers and other workers as its members
  • AWU says that despite few successes through organised efforts, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation persists at Google.
  • “That isn’t the company we want to work for. We deserve a workplace that respects us, where we can work for a fair wage without fear of abuse or discrimination”, says AMU
  • The AMU members say that this is primarily an effort to give structure and longevity to activism at Google, rather than to negotiate for a contract.

More than 400 Google engineers and other workers have formed a union called the Alphabet Workers Union after Google’s parent company, Alphabet. The group says that it is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents workers in telecommunications and media in the United States and Canada. It will be the first union open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company, with dues-paying members, an elected board of directors, and paid organizing staff, says the Union’s press release.

The Union claims that the past few years at Google have been tumultuous with secret military AI projects, multi-million dollar payouts to executives who sexually harassed coworkers, profiting from hate speech, & more. It also alleges that coworkers who have voiced concerns have even been fired, illegally, as retaliation.

The Union says that organised efforts from Google workers got Project Maven and Project Dragonfly cancelled. It got 20,000+ Googlers to walk out against sexual harassment and got $15 min wage and healthcare for contractors, the Union claims.

Despite such successes, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation persists at Google claims the Union. “Over half our workforce are TVCs—paid less, with fewer benefits, for often the exact same work. A few at the top are getting enormously rich while others see nothing of that wealth”, says the Union. “That isn’t the company we want to work for. We deserve a workplace that respects us, where we can work for a fair wage without fear of abuse or discrimination. We deserve meaningful control over the projects we work on & the direction of this company”. Hence we are building on all these past organizing efforts and more to create a structure for a unified worker voice, says the Union press release.

The firing of Dr. Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial intelligence researcher, seems to have given a fillip to formalise the Union. The AWU claims the Dr. Gebru was fired for no reason whatsoever. “The firing has caused outrage from thousands of us, including Black and Brown workers who are heartbroken by the company’s actions and unsure of their future at Google”, says the Union.
The new union is part of CWA’s CODE-CWA (Coalition to Organize Digital Employees) project, and the workers will be members of CWA Local 1400. It follows successful union drives by other Google workers—like HCL contract workers in Pittsburgh and cafeteria workers now with UNITE HERE! in the Bay Area—as well as unions formed by workers at other tech companies like Kickstarter and Glitch. The Alphabet Workers Union, however, will be the first open to all employees of Alphabet, regardless of their role or classification, claims AWU.

“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” said Nicki Anselmo, Program Manager. “From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade.”

Software Engineer Dylan Baker quoted in the Union’s press release says, “This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers. We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”

“We are glad to welcome the Alphabet Workers Union as members of CWA Local1400,” said CWA Local President Don Trementozzi. “We are a democratic, member-driven union, with experience building and sustaining worker power at some of America’s largest corporations. This is an historic step toward making lasting improvements for workers at Google and other Alphabet companies.”

The Union press release says that though Google began as a small tech company with a “Don’t Be Evil” mantra, it has quickly become one of the most influential companies in the world employing over 120,000 workers. It’s responsible for vast swaths of the internet, controlling tools used by billions of people across the world, with subsidiaries as varied as Waymo, Verily, Fitbit, and Wing.

“Workers who have organized to stop these trends have been met by intimidation, suppression, and blatantly illegal firings, as recently confirmed by the National Labor Relations Board. Instead of listening to workers, Google hired IRI, a notorious anti-union firm, to suppress their organizing. This is how Google’s executives have chosen to interact with workers. The only tactic that has ensured workers are respected and heard is collective action”, says the AWU.

Though AWU says that the Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, experts opine that unlike a traditional union, which demands that an employer come to the bargaining table to agree on a contract, the AWU is a minority union that represents a fraction of the company’s more than 260,000 full-time employees and contractors.

The AMU members say that this is primarily an effort to give structure and longevity to activism at Google, rather than to negotiate for a contract. However, the Union will try to have a say in the kinds of contracts Google accepts, employee classification, wage and compensation issues. “All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members”, claims AMU’s press release. 

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