‘We’d had enough’: Why are Google employees unionizing?
More than 400 employees of Google and the parent organization Alphabet Inc. announced the creation of an employees union on Monday. Dubbed the Alphabet Workers Union, it is a watershed moment in staunchly anti-union Silicon Valley, where no other union of this kind exists. This union is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), a union that represents workers in telecommunications and media in the United States and Canada.
The group has already received an outpouring of support with both Senator Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. “I stand in solidarity with @AlphabetWorkers who are organizing to form a union at Google. What these workers are fighting for is not radical. They want fair wages and a workplace free from abuse, retaliation, intimidation and discrimination. And that is exactly what they deserve.” tweeted Sanders. Google software engineer Kimberly Wilber, an activist with the new group, told Bloomberg that the union was their way of building power “so executives can’t ignore us”. “We’d had enough,” wrote the union’s vice chair and executive chair in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.
Here’s everything you need to know about what led to the formation of Alphabet Workers Union
1.The Alphabet Workers Union is a minority union because only 400 out of more than 260,000 full-time employees and contractors of the company formed the union. This means the group cannot ask the company to the bargaining table for negotiating contracts. However, the union’s primary aim lies in giving shape to the long-standing demands of employees and not simply negotiating contracts.
2.The union is seen as a culmination of the 2018 walkout at Google, where some 20,000 employees staged a walkout after Google had paid tens of millions of dollars to two executives who had been accused of sexual misconduct by employees, letting the accused execs off the hook without any consequences.
3.Google has been accused of racial bias towards minority employees. Timnit Gebru, who worked as artificial intelligence (AI) researcher at Google was fired after she pointed out the racial bias inherent in the company’s AI system. The union’s vice chair Chewy Shah wrote an op-ed in the New York Times where he used Gebru’s treatment at the hands of Google as one of the reasons for unionizing. “Most recently, Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial intelligence researcher and one of the few Black women in her field, said she was fired over her work to fight bias. Her offence? Conducting research that was critical of large-scale A.I. models and being critical of existing diversity and inclusion efforts,” he wrote.
4.Google employees have long criticised the company’s involvement in projects with the Pentagon and plan to launch a censored search engine in China. The New York Times reported in December that the US federal authorities had wrongfully terminated the employment of two employees who had spoken out against the company’s work with immigration authorities in 2019.
5.The union is open to all employees of all Google in North America regardless of their role and position. “We are the workers who built Alphabet. We write code, clean offices, serve food, drive buses, test self-driving cars and do everything needed to keep this behemoth running. We joined Alphabet because we wanted to build technology that improves the world. Yet time and again, company leaders have put profits ahead of our concerns. We are joining together — temps, vendors, contractors, and full-time employees — to create a unified worker voice. We want Alphabet to be a company where workers have a meaningful say in decisions that affect us and the societies we live in.” said the union’s vice and executive chairs.