Dhe Alphabet Holding around the Internet company Google is getting a union. A group of employees announced the establishment of the “Alphabet Workers Union” on Monday. Dylan Baker, a software developer in the company, called the move “historic” in a press release.
The technology industry has so far been a difficult turf for unions. However, activism has become increasingly widespread in the workforce of companies such as Google and Amazon in recent years, which was expressed, for example, in high-profile protest actions. The creation of the Google union brings this activism to a new dimension and gives it more structure.
The union was initially joined by around 225 employees, which is only a very small proportion of the workforce, which consists of more than 130,000 employees. The organizers hope for broader support and say that their group is open to all employees. Those who join must agree to pay one percent of their annual salary as a membership fee. According to the organizers, the establishment of the union took around a year to prepare.
Google wanted to prevent union
It is not entirely surprising that Google is now the first major American technology company in which a union wants to establish itself on a broad front. The company has faced repeated resistance movements from its workforce in recent years. For example, a group called “Google Walkout for Real Change” was formed, which organized a strike with thousands of colleagues around the world in autumn 2018. The trigger at the time was Google’s handling of sexual harassment in the workplace. There were also protests against the company’s projects with the American government and against interim plans to re-offer a censored search engine in China.
These actions apparently triggered an alarm in the Google leadership. Some time ago it became known that the group had hired a consulting company which is known, among other things, for preventing its customers from forming unions. According to media reports, Google managers tried in 2019 to prevent a meeting of employees in the Zurich branch in which questions about trade unions were to be discussed. Google also fired five employees who stood out as activists. The company cited other reasons for this, but the National Labor Relations Board recently concluded it could have violated labor law.
Google hit the headlines again just a few weeks ago for its work environment when Timnit Gebru, an artificial intelligence researcher, said she was fired after criticizing the company in an internal email. According to media reports, she complained, among other things, that Google is hiring too few employees from underrepresented groups.
Similar movement also at Amazon
There have also been internal protests in other companies. At Amazon, a group called “Amazon Employees for Climate Justice” has put pressure on the company to become more committed to climate protection. In connection with the corona pandemic, she has asked Amazon to do more for the safety of employees in distribution centers. Amazon workers at a warehouse in the state of Alabama are preparing to form a union and plan to vote among workers in the near future.
This would be the first union in the group. One of the most prominent unions in the technology industry to date was founded in the Kickstarter funding platform last year. At Google, a group of external employees in the Pittsburgh office organized themselves in 2019.
On the website of the new “Alphabet Workers Union” some employees have their say and give reasons why they consider the union to be necessary. Software developer Brian Ellis, for example, says that Google has lost sight of its former corporate motto “Don’t be Evil” – “Do no evil”. His colleague Derek Snyder complained about his employer’s treatment of employees who express “moral and ethical concerns”. The new union does not have a specific list of demands, but is one of the things it claims to want to ensure more democracy and social justice in the company.