The tech industryâ€™s overwhelmingly non-unionized status took a small but significant hit on Monday, with the announcement of the Alphabet Workers Union, a minority union at Google (the parent company of which is Alphabet). Their goalâ€”at least in the short termâ€”isnâ€™t to win a union representation election and get the company to the bargaining table. Itâ€™s to create a platform to pressure the company on a range of issues as a group rather than as individuals. Google remains committed to keeping its workers isolated as individuals, with a spokesperson saying â€śas weâ€™ve always done, weâ€™ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.â€ť Thatâ€™s manager-speak for â€śdivide and conquer.â€ť
â€śOur bosses have collaborated with repressive governments around the world,â€ť Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, the unionâ€™s executive chair and vice chair wrote in a New York Times op-edintroducing the effort. â€śThey have developed artificial intelligence technology for use by the Department of Defense and profited from ads by a hate group. They have failed to make the changes necessary to meaningfully address our retention issues with people of color.â€ť
The Alphabet Workers Union intends to fight for Google to do better. And, significantly, the minority union structure allows participation by some of the workers most wronged under the companyâ€™s current system, workers who would be blocked from participating in a typical union bargaining unit. Koul and Shaw explain: â€śAbout half of the workers at Google are temps, vendors or contractors. They are paid lower salaries, receive fewer benefits, and have little job stability compared with full-time employees, even though they often do the exact same work. They are also more likely to be Black or brownâ€”a segregated employment system that keeps half of the companyâ€™s work force in second-class roles. Our union will seek to undo this grave inequity.â€ť
More than 225 workers have signed onâ€”a fraction of Googleâ€™s workforce, but enough for a voice as they build on earlier activist efforts like the massive protests against the companyâ€™s sexual harassment policies, protests that won significant changes in 2018.
Google has shown its willingness to play dirty when it comes to worker protest, with theÂ wrongful firing of two worker activistsÂ as well as the firing of artificial intelligence researcher Timnit Gebru after she criticized the companyâ€™s diversity and inclusion efforts and the biases in AI models. With the Alphabet Workers Union, workers will have a collective voice, and an affiliation with the Communications Workers of America.
This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 4, 2021. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura ClawsonÂ has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.