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Google Workers Take First Steps to Form Union

Michael Behr

,

Google

The nascent Alphabet Workers Union has claimed it will live by Google’s old motto, ‘Don’t be evil’.

Over 200 workers at Google’s parent company Alphabet have taken steps to form a labour union in protest over some of the company’s actions.

The establishment of the Alphabet Workers Union was announced in a New York Times opinion piece from the union’s executive chair Parul Koul and vice chair Chewy Shaw, both Google software engineers.

According to them, 226 have currently signed union cards with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Under US law, this is the first step in winning recognition as a collective bargaining unit.

This marks the first time that employees at one of the big tech companies have formed a workers’ union. It took almost a year of secret of organisation to create the union.

The new union is being created with support from the CWA as part of its CODE-CWA (Coalition to Organize Digital Employees) project. Its aims include helping represent workers and organising activist activity across Alphabet’s companies, including Fitbit and Waymo.

In a press release, the union noted that Google executives have received exit packages worth tens of millions of dollars despite documented instances of sexual harassment. In addition, it protested the company’s acceptance of military contracts, including projects focused around combat drones.

The union pointed to collective action made against Google’s Project Maven, a Pentagon AI programme, and Project Dragonfly, a censored search engine for China.

“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,” said Program Manager Nicki Anselmo

The union will be open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company. According to a press release from the union, half of Google’s employees are TVCs—temps, vendors, or contractors, who lack full employment rights. As such, they will have the opportunity to join the union.

In December last year, the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Google had unlawfully fired employees for trying to start a union.

The company has claimed that it will “continue engaging directly” with its staff, according to a media statement from Google Director of People Operations Kara Silverstein.

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Over the last two decades, the big tech companies have seen their power grow to previously unimaginable heights. The likes of Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and Google have become the gatekeepers of the internet, owning and controlling the infrastructure used by thousands of other companies and organisations, big and small.

The unchecked power of the big tech companies has made many uneasy. On both sides of the Atlantic, governments have been taking action to assert authority on the tech giants.

The heads of Facebook, Google, and Twitter appeared in the US Senate pre-election, with Facebook and Twitter’s CEOs returning post-election, over their role in spreading misinformation and censorship.

Meanwhile, in Europe, a French-Dutch proposal called for breaking up the tech giants, while in Australia, the government is battling Google over how it uses third-party news articles.

While the 200-strong union accounts for a relatively small proportion of the company’s 120,000 employees, it comes at a time when the big tech companies’ powers are under threat. Furthermore, the union represents a potential restraint on Google that comes from within, rather than from without.

The union is not the first sign of dissent from with Google’s ranks – over 1,500 Google employees backed prominent Google AI researcher Dr Timnit Gebru after she was fired in December last year.

This action was directly at odds with Google’s historical corporate culture, which allowed dissent and debate among its staff.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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