Hundreds of Google employees form workers’ union

5 Jan 2021689 Views

Image: © wolterke/Stock.adobe.com

The Alphabet Workers Union is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America and will be open to both employees and contractors.

More than 200 Google employees in the US have formed a labour union, marking the first organisation of its kind at a major US tech company.

The Alphabet Workers Union was set up by a group of software engineers but is open for all workers across Google’s parent company Alphabet, including contractors and vendors who make up a sizeable chunk of its personnel.

The union’s organisers said that the group was founded “to control what we work on and how it is used” while ensuring fair and inclusive working conditions.

“There is no place for harassment, bigotry, discrimination, or retaliation. We prioritise the needs and concerns of the marginalised and vulnerable. Workers are essential to the business. The diversity of our voices makes us stronger,” the union said in its mission statement.

The Alphabet Workers Union is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, which represents telecoms and media workers. However, it will be a ‘minority union’ and, unlike a traditional union, will not have legal avenues such as collective bargaining.

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In response to the union’s announcement, Google said: “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.”

The move is the latest to surround Google on labour issues and disquiet among its workforce. Most recently, it faced a controversy regarding the dismissal of Dr Timnit Gebru, a researcher in AI ethics. She said she was dismissed by Google after criticising the company’s diversity efforts. Google denied the claim.

Some of the company’s employees have attempted to organise before and faced repercussions. Last month, a US federal agency found that Google wrongfully terminated employees who had organised staff protests. The National Labor Relations Board accused the company of using “terminations and intimidation in order to quell workplace activism”.

In late 2018, staff at Google offices around the world – including its Dublin headquarters – staged a walkout over the company’s handling of sexual misconduct cases and multimillion dollar payouts to executives accused of harassment.

Previously, staff also raised objections to Google’s AI work with the US military, including Project Maven, which it ceased in 2018.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

editorial@siliconrepublic.com