Alphabet and Google employees have formed a union in response to missteps by management.
The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) has been formed with support from the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The union is the first in the company’s history, and one of just a few in the tech industry at large.
Support for unionization has been growing within Alphabet/Google for some time, and management’s actions have only increased that support. In late 2020, the company was accused of illegally spying on, and eventually firing, employees who were trying to form a union, leading to a complaint by the National Labor Relations Board.
Google also landed in hot water for firing Dr. Timnit Gebru, one of the world’s leading AI ethics researchers. While the company maintains Dr. Gebru resigned, her colleagues insist the company forced her out. The move drew condemnation from experts inside and outside the company. While CEO Sundar Pichai tried to address the issue in an email to employees, it was widely criticized as being tone-deaf.
Dr. Gebru’s firing was directly referenced in a statement announcing the formation of the AWU:
Most recently, the company fired Dr. Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial intelligence researcher, for no reason whatsoever. The firing has 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.
The statement also addressed the company’s “Don’t Be Evil” slogan. Once a motto the company proudly displayed and adhered to, it has increasingly become an afterthought, as the company has worked with China, accepted military contracts, mishandled sexual abuse allegations, intimidated workers and more, issues that have further alienated workers:
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. This is how Google’s executives have chosen to interact with workers.
The only tactic that has ensured workers are respected and heard is collective action. Project Maven was cancelled when thousands of Googlers pledged they would not work on unethical tech. Forced arbitration was ended when Googlers walked out across the globe.
Employees made it clear the AWU would work to address these issues, and use their collective power to force Google’s hand into making better decisions.
“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” said Nicki Anselmo, Program Manager. “From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade.”
“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” said Dylan Baker, Software Engineer. “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.”
It remains to be seen how Alphabet/Google will respond, but management has an opportunity to reset relations with employees and regain some of the respect it has squandered.