Around 200 Google workers formed the Alphabet Workers Union, a rare labor initiative in large tech companies. Also, the union presents the biggest and most organized front to Alphabet’s (Google’s parent company) management.
Calling themselves the Alphabet Workers Union, workers will join the Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 1440. As such, they will join employees from Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc and will pay dues equivalent to 1% of their compensation. Right now, the AWU’s 200 members pale in comparison to the Alphabet’s total workforce of 120,000 employees. The AWU will also take an active role in the CWA’s Coalition to Organize Digital Employees project, according to organizers. Specifically, the AWU is a “solidarity union,” which means workers themselves will determine strategy and initiate action against Alphabet directly. Thus, they will not require mediation from government labor agencies. In addition, AWU will not negotiate a contract with Google nor with the National Labor Relations Board.
Google software engineer Dylan Baker noted that “This is historic. The first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers. We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”
Advocate for Working Conditions
Alan Morales, a three-year software engineer, said he joined the union to help “advocate for our working conditions within the company.” The union’s current objectives include onboarding new members and then figuring out “collectively” what their priorities are and how to advocate for all employees. He said that “It is our right to unionize and we hope to use our collective bargaining rights to make the world a better place.”
On its union website, the AWU posted its mission statement. They said they strive to “protect Alphabet workers, our global society, and our world.” Their definition of workers not just covers full-time employees, but also “temporary employees, vendors, and contractors.” In addition, the union will help “ ensure our working conditions are inclusive and fair.”
‘Don’t Be Evil’
Two ranking AWU officials, Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, the executive chair and the vice-chair of the Alphabet Workers Union wrote an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times yesterday. They said that for many years, Google executives dismissed workplace concerns and profited from hate group ads. In addition, Google collaborated with repressive governments and developed AI technology for military purposes. They gave a reminder that Google is the same company that used to have a motto: “Don’t be evil.” When it launched its IPO in 2004, Google said it would do good things even at the expense of profits.
Koul and Shaw committed the union to “live by that motto.” They noted that Alphabet is a powerful company, responsible for vast swaths of the internet. As billions of people use the platform, the company has a responsibility to prioritize the public good. In addition, Google is responsible for making the world a better place.
Demands for Transparency
Among the values advocated by the union are calling for transparency. The AWU wants workers to get the right to decline to work on projects that conflict with their values. They also called for the company to act ethically, “with the best interests of society and the environment.”
“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” the union post continued.
Because the AWU represents the entire Alphabet organization, workers from Google subsidiaries including YouTube, Fitbit, and Waymo, and others, will get invited. All Alphabet employees in the US and Canada can join the union, including contractors and temporary staff, making it the first union of its kind at the company.
While US labor laws allow unionization for employees, independent contractors do not have the same rights. Many of Google’s workers come from staffing agencies. Instead of HR, negotiations for wages and benefits are between the company and a supplier. Known as “Temps, Vendors, and Contractors,” or TVCs, these worker types outnumbered full-time employees since 2018. AWU officials insist on including TVC workers in the union as well.
“We’re not going to make our growth and collective action dependent on labor law,” Shaw said.
Watch the Reuters feature report on Google workers forming a union, a first in the tech industry:
Do you support worker unions at tech companies such as Google? Do you agree with including non-full-time employees such as temporary workers, vendors, and contractors? Let us know what you think about Google workers organizing a union.