Staff at Google have for the first time ever, formed their own trade union after years of issues reported among its workforce.

The ‘Alphabet Workers Union’ has been launched with the existing ‘Communications Workers Union of America’, and is ‘demanding change at work’.

It is open to both to full-time workers and contractors at the tech giant, and the organisation of the Alphabet Workers Union has taken a year to achieve, often in secret, it is being reported.

Trade union

“This union builds upon years of courageous organising by Google workers,” Nicki Anselmo, Program Manager said in the union press release.

“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,” said Anselmo. “Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade.”

Although this union claims to be the “first union open to all employees and contractors” at Alphabet, it should be noted that other Google workers have already followed this path, namely HCL contract workers in Pittsburgh and cafeteria workers with UNITE HERE! in the Bay Area.

“This is historic – the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” said Dylan Baker, Software Engineer. “We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organisers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”

Don’t be evil

Google of course began life 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. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, now has more than 120,000 workers.

But the union points out that half of Google workers at Alphabet companies are hired as TVCs – temps, vendors, or contractors – without the benefits afforded to full-time employees.

The union also cited former executives who have been awarded tens of millions of dollars in exit packages after documented sexual harassment against fellow Googlers. This has prompted mass walk-outs in Google offices around the world.

Another bone of contention for the union came when Google took “unethical government contracts, like drone targeting for the military, yet kept the nature of that technology secret even to the Googlers working on those projects. It has removed its past motto from its mission statement.”

For the record Google staff have previously protested against a number of Google projects, including a censored search engine in China (Project Dragonfly) and a contract with the Pentagon to analyse drone footage (Project Maven).

And of course, the union also cited the recent ‘firing’ of Dr. Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial intelligence researcher.

Google intimidation

“Workers who have organised to stop these trends have been met by intimidation, suppression, and blatantly illegal firings, as recently confirmed by the National Labor Relations Board,” said the union. “Instead of listening to workers, Google hired IRI, a notorious anti-union firm, to suppress their organising. This is how Google’s executives have chosen to interact with workers.

In December 2019 the Communications Workers of America union filed a federal labour charge against Google, alleging it unlawfully fired four employees (the Thanksgiving four) to deter workers from engaging in union activities.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) union is the largest communications and media labour union in the United States, with roughly 700,000 members.

“The only tactic that has ensured workers are respected and heard is collective action,” the Alphabet union added. “Project Maven was cancelled when thousands of Googlers pledged they would not work on unethical tech. Forced arbitration was ended when Googlers walked out across the globe.”

“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,” it said. “All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members.”

The union reportedly launched with more than 200 members.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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