Several hundred workers at Google parent Alphabet have formed a union, reflecting increasing employee discontent with certain workplace and marketplace practices at the technology giant and a willingness to go a step further after years of petitions and protests.
"We've seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively," Nicki Anselmo, program manager, said Monday in a statement announcing the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union.
She cited past organizing by Google workers, including an effort that led the company in 2014 to allow Google + users to register for accounts using fake names. "Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade," she added.
In recent years, Google employees have also protested a partnership with the Pentagon and Google's large payouts to executives accused of sexual harassment. Most recently, employees have spoken out against the departure of Timnit Gebru, an AI researcher who says she was fired over her work to fight bias.
"Her offense? Conducting research that was critical of large-scale AI models and being critical of existing diversity and inclusion efforts. In response, thousands of our colleagues organized, demanding an explanation," software engineers Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw wrote Monday in an editorial in the New York Times.
"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 stated. "We are joining together — temps, vendors, contractors, and full-time employees — to create a unified worker voice. We want Alphabet to be a company where workers have a meaningful say in decisions that affect us."
The union will have an elected board of directors and paid organizing staff members, with members paying 1% of their total compensation, according to its release. Open to all employees and contractors, the union is being formed with the help of the Communications Workers of America, a labor union representing 700,000 members.
As of Monday, 226 Google employees had signed union cards with the CWA, "the first step in winning a recognized bargaining unit under U.S. law," Koul and Shaw stated.
Google said it backs rights for workers, but did not address any of the specific complaints.
"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," Kara Silverstein, Google's director of people operations, said in an emailed statement to CBS MoneyWatch.
Alphabet employs more than 130,000 around the globe. Its subsidiaries include Google, YouTube and Waymo.
Digital technology workers are largely not unionized. But there's an effort by Amazon workers to form a union at a warehouse in Alabama, and workers at a few small companies including Glitch and Kickstarter recently formed collective bargaining units.
First published on January 4, 2021 / 1:30 PM
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