Google Employees Union Up

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Wherever he is, Jimmy Hoffa is smiling.

A group of Google employees announced Monday they have formed a union, creating a unique foothold for the labor movement in big tech.

Searching For Solutions

The newly announced Alphabet Workers’ Union already boasts over 225 card-carrying employees of Google and its parent Alphabet. But as a drop in the bucket of the company’s global workforce of over 130,000, the members-only union will strictly represent employees who willingly join. That allows representation for contractors and vendors, who would otherwise be excluded by labor laws.

In a New York Times op-ed published Monday, employees Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw said the union will not just address employee treatment, but serve as a “structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company.”

  • A strong six-figure annual salary with benefits doesn’t elicit much empathy. But Koul and Shaw said the union intends to address unfair treatment for Google contractors. A majority of the company’s workforce, contractors are paid less and receive fewer benefits despite often shouldering the same workload as full-timers.
  • The op-ed also slammed Google’s work for the U.S. Department of Defense and “repressive” governments like China, where plans for a censored search engine were scuttled by employee backlash.

“This is historic,” said Google software engineer Dylan Baker. “The first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers.” Members say they’ll commit 1% of their annual compensation to the union for legal fees and staff if the effort takes off.

Labor Issues Piling Up

Google has accumulated an unfavorable track record when it comes to labor disputes:

  • After ongoing complaints of unequal treatment, 80 Google contractors in Pittsburgh voted to join the United Steelworkers union in 2019.
  • Last month the National Labor Relations Board ruled the company illegally monitored and fired two employees who protested Google policies and attempted to organize a union.

Google employees also created a petition in December to support A.I. researcher Timnit Gebru, who says she was abruptly fired over a research paper dispute. Google higher-ups still maintain that she resigned.

The Takeaway: Members of the Alphabet Workers’ Union are asking Google to abide by its own code of conduct and “do the right thing.” In response to the new union, Google’s Director of People Operations Kara Silverstein said, “as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”