In the beginning of January 2021, over 200 Google workers decided to form a workers’ union in the United States, according to a New York Times opinion piece. This workers’ union has been named the “Alphabet Workers Union,” with the goal of ensuring that employees are paid a wage that is fair, without fear of discrimination or abuse. This is the first group in the history of the big tech industry to do so, further bringing the years of unchecked power the industry has had into the spotlight.
The formation of this union comes after accusations from the U.S. labor regulator that state that Google unlawfully questioned multiple workers and then fired them for protesting company policies and attempting to organize a union. Despite the accusations, Google believes that they acted legally in handling these matters.
According to the leaders of the union, “We’re building on years of organizing efforts at Google to create a formal structure for workers.” Protests and worker activism has been ongoing for years in the organization. In 2018, Google experienced a major walkout due to the way the company handled a sexual harassment accusation. Then, in 2019, many Google employees wrote a public letter to the company asking them to eliminate all of their greenhouse emissions by 2030. There was also a petition signed calling for Google to retract their contract with US Customs and Border Protection over the company’s role in separating families attempting to cross the border.
Currently, 226 workers from Google have signed union cards with the Communications Workers of America. This particular union is open to all workers from Alphabet, Google’s parent company, that are located in the U.S. and in Canada. This not only includes full-time employees, but also temporary vendors, workers, and contractors. These employees make up what is referred to as a “shadow” workforce at the company, which is larger than the group of actual Google employees.
Although the U.S. labor regulator, the National Labor Relations Board, has presented accusations against Google, the union is choosing not to seek ratification through this board. Instead of this traditional route, the group with form a “minority union.” This means that they will not have written legally protected rights to action, such as collective bargaining. Because of this, the union will be able to include a much wider range of employees.
Despite the allegations and protests the company has experienced over the past few years, the director of human resources at Google, Kara Silverstein, stated that the company had “always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace” for all of their employees. “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. As more employees continue to join the workers’ union, it will be interesting to see how this affects Google and other tech giants of Silicon Valley.