More than 225 Google employees announced today the creation of the Alphabet Workers Union, the culmination of many years of labor rights activism at the company. The union’s inception is monumental for the tech industry, which is notoriously unfriendly to collective labor organizations.
Google employees worked with the Coalition to Organize Digital Employees (CODE), a subsection of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), on the union’s formation.
The Alphabet Workers Union is a minority union; unlike traditional unions, AWU does not have the backing needed to negotiate a union contract for all employees. Workers said that, instead, the union is an effort to give structure and longevity to activism at Google, according to the union’s press release.
The union will give Google’s more than 260,000 employees and contractors unprecedented voice in the company’s internal activities. And its implications will reach far beyond those employees, too.
It’s time — Google employees have been attempting to unionize for years — and for good reason, based on recent reports from the company’s current and former workers. The company’s diversity record is a mess, to say the least, and large numbers have employees have been vocal in their disdain for Google’s police contracts. By all accounts, Google’s internal culture is one with harmful — and at times explicitly racist — structures.
In a Twitter thread announcing the union, CODE-CWA also listed the following employee concerns:
- Google has weaponized AI for warfare.
- Google has rewarded executives who hurt and abused women & marginalized workers with multimillion dollar payouts.
- Google has created a tiered employment system segregated by race, gender, & compensation.
- Google has not backed its commitments to increase diversity among highly paid workers with meaningful action.
- Google has promoted & profited off of hate speech.
- Google has illegally fired workers who organized for better working conditions.
Let’s keep this momentum — Google employees’ successful unionization is all the more impressive given the tech industry’s general penchant for union-busting. Other tech giants like Amazon have recently gone as far as explicitly recruiting internal spies to watch for employees’ union activities.
When Kickstarter unionized last year, we finally had hope that the tech industry’s anti-union sentiment might be shifting. But companies like Amazon have kept Silicon Valley’s union-busting dreams alive in the months since then.
As a much larger company, Google’s union could leave a more intense impression on the tech industry writ large. The trick now is using that momentum to further employees’ goals at other companies.
It’s difficult to tell how Google will take to the news; our guess is "not all that well." Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, released the following statement in response to the news:
“We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
Google cannot interfere or retaliate against any workers who sign union cards, according to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.