Employees at Google's parent company, Alphabet, have launched an unconventional union with the help of Communications Workers of America. More than 400 workers have signed up with the Alphabet Workers Union, which has been formed to ensure a fair wage without fear of abuse, retaliation, or discrimination.
There has long been a culture of protest and petitioning at big tech companies, but the move to formally unionise is a first and will give Google employees a new avenue to pursue change. However, as the union is not seeking ratification through a federal agency, it will not give workers traditional collective bargaining rights.
The Alphabet Workers Union is open to all US and Canadian workers at Google and Alphabet, including temporary workers, vendors, and other contractors. After initial reports suggested that around 200 had initially joined, overnight updates reported that the number had grown to more than 400 by the end of Monday, January 5th.
How much leverage the Alphabet Workers Union is able to gain remains to be seen, but after years of unchecked power, we are starting to see the first signs of proper worker organisation among the biggest tech companies. Similar unionisation attempts are taking place at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, whilst a small group of Google contractors in Pittsburgh have already formed a union.
Big tech has long been resistant to worker organisation. Amazon, in particular, was accused of aggressive anti-union tactics after a 45-minute 'Union-Busting' training video leaked in 2018. In the same year, workers at Google staged a walkout over the alleged mishandling of sexual harassment allegations. In 2019, Google staff signed a petition condemning a cloud computing contract their employer had with US Customs and Border Protection.
"This union builds upon years of courageous organising by Google workers," said Nicki Anselmo, Program Manager. "From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade."
The Alphabet Workers Union is part of Communications Workers of America's Coalition to Organize Digital Employees project, and the signed-up Google staff will be members of CWA Local 1400.
"This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers," said Dylan Baker, a Software Engineer. "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."
On the homepage of the new Alphabet Workers Union, the old "Don't Be Evil" slogan, now scrapped and still a much-derided change of heart from the search giant, is referenced. It states: "Google began as a small tech company with a “Don’t Be Evil” mantra, but has quickly become one of the most influential companies in the world."
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, now has more than 120,000 workers, and they are starting to organise!
Google’s director of human resources, Kara Silverstein, said in a statement that the company had always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for its employees: "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."