Labor Activism enters the Tech Industry as Google Employees form a Union
Google Employees form a Union
On Monday, January 4th, it was first reported that more than 400 Google engineers and other Alphabet Inc. workers had formed a union. The union is called the Alphabet Workers Union. This has become major news in the tech industry due to the fact that this industry has long resisted efforts to organize its largely white collar workforce. This union formation is a sign that labor activism is entering the tech industry.
The union evolved from an informal group of activist employees and they have organized in secret for almost a year. They elected leadership last month and have recently become more public with their efforts. Their goal is to better protect members from being fired or other forms of retaliation. They also hope that this group will give staff the power to make demands from the company more aggressively. Workers have demanded policy overhauls on pay and protection against harassment and ethical concerns. There have been internal tensions over sexual harassment scandals, pay equity, and the company’s military contracts. This union becoming public is likely in response to these recent occurrences and the union’s ability to make changes and defend these employees.
The union will be part of the Communication Workers of America labor group. The CWA previously organized workers in the banking and telecom industries. They are not a traditional union but a “minority union” since they only represent a fraction of all full time employees and contractors at the company. This means they will not be able to force the company to bargain over wages or other issues. However, their primary goal is to give structure and longevity to activism at Google. The union hopes to be a tool to sustain pressure on leadership so workers have power to make changes. Minority unions often use public pressure campaigns to influence employers and use their collective power to protect employees who are being discriminated against.
Chewy Shaw is the Vice Chair of the Alphabet Workers Union and has been a Google engineer since 2011. He explains that, “A union is the best way we can make sure to keep this environment that follows our values and takes care of all of the employees in a fair way.” Kara Silverstein, Director of People Operations at Google, in response, said that Google supports its employees’ “protected labor rights” and that they will continue to engage directly with their employees.
The formation of the Alphabet Workers Union is a big step for labor activism in the tech industry. Now we must watch and see the power that this minority union has, and how the tech industry will act in response to this move.
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