A New Union Is Starting Up At Google With The Goal Of Protecting ‘Alphabet Workers, Our Global Society And Our World’
Unions used to dominate many American industries. However, over the years, their power has waned. Now, there are new signs that this trend may be changing. President-elect Joe Biden, on his website, states, “Strong unions built the great American middle class. Everything that defines what it means to live a good life and know you can take care of your family-the 40 hour workweek, paid leave, healthcare protections, a voice in your workplace-is because of workers who organized unions and fought for worker protections.”
Biden proposed “a plan to grow a stronger, more inclusive middle class-the backbone of the American economy-by strengthening public and private sector unions and helping all workers bargain successfully for what they deserve.”
We are now seeing the formation of a union at one of the world’s largest leading tech companies, Alphabet-Google’s parent company. Roughly “225 Google engineers and other workers have formed a union, the group revealed on Monday,” according to reporting by the New York Times.
The newly formed Alphabet Workers Union will be affiliated with the Communications Workers of America. This group doesn’t plan to represent the entire company, but will focus on representing employees who voluntarily join. The union, for now, isn’t seeking collective bargaining for a companywide new contract. Its goal is to create “ an innovative union.” According to the group, “Alphabet has always been an innovative company, with innovative workers; it is only fitting that we create an innovative union. We use labor protections wherever we can, but we do not rely solely on labor protections.”
Whereas traditional unions utilize their collective strength to negotiate higher salaries, better health benefits and pensions, the Alphabet Workers Union is focused on social-type issues. It calls for workers to join the union and “fight the systems of oppression that persist to this day.” The union leaders “want to wield [their] power to ensure” the following:
- Working conditions are inclusive and fair
- Perpetrators of harassment, abuse, discrimination and retaliation are held accountable,
- Workers have the freedom to decline to work on projects that don’t align with their values
- All workers, regardless of employment status, can enjoy the same benefits
- Come together, reclaim power and make Alphabet a better place for all workers.
The union envisions, “All aspects of our work must be transparent, and we must have the freedom to choose which projects benefit from our labor.” The union contends, “Alphabet can make money without doing evil. We must prioritize the well-being of society and the environment over maximizing profits.”
The group’s website profiles the array of workers who are involved with the union. The Alphabet Workers Union states, “Our union strives to protect Alphabet workers, our global society and our world. We promote solidarity, democracy and social and economic justice.” The union will be open to both employees and contractors at Google. The goal, in part, is to deal with important matters, such as pay disparity, retaliation and controversial government contracts.
In a New York Times op-ed, engineers Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw shared their frustration with the tech giant, writing, “We built Google. This is not the company we want to work for. Our company’s motto used to be, ‘Don’t be evil.’ An organized work force will help us live up to it.”
The two engineers added, “For far too long, thousands of us at Google-and other subsidiaries of Alphabet, Google’s parent company-have had our workplace concerns dismissed by executives.” They pointed to corporate decisions that they deemed unethical, including that the company “developed artificial intelligence technology for use by the Department of Defense and profited from ads by a hate group. They have failed to make the changes necessary to meaningfully address our retention issues with people of color.”
There hasn’t been any consequential unionization at tech companies; although, there has been a lot of complaints, activism and protests by workers. The tech industry has seen employees growing dissatisfied with the actions of their management. Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Wayfair, Deadspin and other online media and tech-related companies were subjected to complaints, walkouts and protests over their decisions to support ethically questionable activities, such as working on projects for China and offering bedding to the cages where migrant detainees are held at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Kickstarter and Glitch became two of the first white-collar tech companies to unionize. Google contractors, who comprise a large percentage of workers, have complained about unfair treatment for a long time and cite that they often lack the same benefits that are offered to salaried employees. Google cafeteria workers in San Francisco and contractors in Pittsburgh have previously unionized.
Alphabet director of people operations Kara Silverstein said, “The company supports workers’ labor rights.” Silverstein added, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. 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.”
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.