Here’s what Google employees hope to gain from forming a union
Hundreds of employees from Google and its parent company, Alphabet, have formed a union, the rarest event in the tech industry, and the biggest and most organized challenge for the company’s management..
It was announced on Monday morning that «Alphabet Workers Union» (Alphabet Workers Union, AWU) will be worker-run and open to both full-time employees and contractors of the tech giant.
«This is a historic event», – said Dylan Baker (Dylan Baker), Google Software Engineer. «The first union in a large technology company for all technical workers. We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues and hire qualified organizers so that all Google employees know they can work with us if they really want their company to reflect their values.».
More than 200 people took part in the initiative, according to a Monday morning article in the New York Times. 226 members of the group signed union cards with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), one of the largest communications and media workers’ unions in the United States, with about 700,000 members in both private and public sectors.
Work to create a union began secretly over a year ago, said Andrew Gainer-Dewar (Andrew Gainer-Dewar), a Google software engineer who helped lead this process.
«You need to organize one-to-one spy-style meetings (cloak-and-dagger way)», – he told CNN Business, – «meeting people, carefully discussing this topic, really thoughtful about who we tell what, when, and in fact, communication is based only on their personal relationships with people whom we see publicly upset because of problems».
While the pandemic has made it difficult to conduct face-to-face meetings, he said, moving to telecommuting has made it easier to organize them in a way.
«Video calling is a fantastic one-to-one communication mechanism», – said Gainer-Dewar. «And the fact that we don’t have it in the office puts us out of the all-seeing eye of a company like Google.».
Unions can be certified at the federal level when most jobs vote one in an election run by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Alternatively, according to the NLRB, a union can be voluntarily recognized as an employer if a sufficient number of workers declare that they would like the union to negotiate on their behalf..
But Google employees have taken a third approach, which, at least for the time being, does not suggest official recognition, said Beth Allen (Beth Allen), CWA Communications Director. This is because traditional collective bargaining agreements «almost always exclude contractors», – Allen said, adding that has been a stumbling block for many union organizers at Google.
This does not exclude that the union will seek official recognition in the future. Until then, union members will not benefit from the support of the collective bargaining agreement with Google. Instead, Allen said, the union will likely have to use other tactics to push for changes at Google, such as pushing for outside media coverage, pressuring Congress to pass new legislation and oversight, or filing complaints with the NLRB..
According to Allen, Google employees could theoretically also go on strike, although that would be problematic, and they currently have no plans to do so..
In response to union efforts, Google pledged to partner with workers.
«We have always worked to create favorable and comfortable workplaces for our employees», – said Kara Silverstein (Kara Silverstein), director of human resources at Google, in a statement to CNN Business. «Of course, our employees defend the labor rights that we support. But, as we have always done, we will continue to interact directly with all of our employees.».
The union was formed after years of growing tensions among Google employees over the company’s business and operational decisions, including its work with the defense sector, plans for a censored search engine in China, and the company’s handling of sexual harassment complaints, the latter of which led to widespread employee protest. Union demands address many of these issues.
«For too long, thousands of us at Google – and other subsidiaries of Alphabet, Google’s parent company – have ignored our business issues, workers wrote in an article in the Times. «Our leaders have worked with repressive governments around the world. They developed artificial intelligence technology for use by the Department of Defense and benefited from advertisements for a group of haters. They were unable to make the necessary changes to help solve the problems of retention of people of different skin color.».
Union organizers specifically mentioned Timnit Gebru (Timnit Gebru), a leading artificial intelligence researcher who recently left Google after criticizing the company’s efforts to bring diversity in the workplace, which sparked strong opposition over Google’s way of working.
Some workers who criticized the company were fired, which in some cases led to complaints to the labor inspectorate. In December, the NLRB accused Google of breaking the law when it allegedly fired two employees for organizing "mutiny".