Over 250 Google engineers and other employees have formed a new union called the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), which is named after Google's parent company. The union, which is a rarity in white collar Silicon Valley, was announced on Monday.
The union has been in the works for over a year and is open to all of the employees, including contractors, at Alphabet/Google. The AWU was formed to give employees an activist voice with the company's leadership team. While most unions are formed to negotiate pay raises or working conditions, the AWU was created to address some of Google's culture issues around businesses decisions that some employees thought were unethical.
The new union is part of the Communications Workers of America's CODE-CWA (Coalition to Organize Digital Employees) project.
“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” said Dylan Baker, a Google software engineer, in a statement in the CWA's Monday press release. “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.”
The AWU workers will be members of CWA Local 1400. All of the issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members, according to CWA's press release.
“We are glad to welcome the Alphabet Workers Union as members of CWA Local 1400,” said CWA Local President Don Trementozzi, in a statement “We are a democratic, member-driven union, with experience building and sustaining worker power at some of America’s largest corporations. This is an historic step toward making lasting improvements for workers at Google and other Alphabet companies.”
Last year the CWA called out AT&T for its use of subcontractors and for cutting jobs in its workforce of installers and technicians.
As of March, Google had roughly 121,000 temps and contractors around the world, compared with 102,000 full-time employees, according to a story by The New York Times. Google workers at Alphabet companies that are hired as "TVCs"—temps, vendors, or contractors— work without the benefits given to full-time employees, according to the CWA.
"We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our work force. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support," said Kara Silverstein, Google’s director of people operations, according to a Monday story by The New York Times. "But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
Three years ago, Google faced backlash from some of its employees over how it handled sexual harassment issues, which led to more than 20,000 Google employees walking out their offices to protest the million-dollar payouts to the executives that were accused of sexual misconduct or harassment after they left the company.
In September, Alphabet forged a settlement on a shareholder lawsuit that accused its board of allegedly mishandling sexual misconduct by its executives. That settlement included a $310 million commitment to fund and create a diversity, equity and inclusion advisory council comprised of outside experts. It also led to over 80 updates or changes to Alphabet's policies and procedures around sexual misconduct and harassment.
Alphabet/Google employees have also been at odds with management over business decisions that they deemed were unethical, such as developing artificial intelligence capabilities for the U.S. Department of Defense and providing its technology to U.S. Customers and Border Protection.
Last month, the company fired Dr. Timnit Gebru. Gebru said Google fired her after she criticized the company’s approach to minority hiring and the biases built into its AI systems.
"The firing caused outrage from thousands of us, including Black and Brown workers who are heartbroken by the company’s actions and unsure of their future at Google," according to the CWA's press release.
"Workers who have organized to stop these trends have been met by intimidation, suppression, and blatantly illegal firings, as recently confirmed by the National Labor Relations Board. Instead of listening to workers, Google hired IRI, a notorious anti-union firm, to suppress their organizing."