A group of 200 Google employees announced Monday that they are forming a union to address longstanding workplace issues such as alleged racial discrimination and profiting from hate group ads that have been dismissed by executives.
But it won’t be a traditional union. For starters, it won’t be possible to negotiate a contract as only 226 of its 120,000 workers have signed union cards, although the union is open to all employees in the US and Canada.
Organized with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), this “minority union” is a voluntary activity that does not require a majority of the workforce to join. It will not represent the full workforce or make non-members dues, but it will provide a collective voice for members if they continue to raise issues of concern to management.
While media professionals have largely worked to ensure fair wages just to instigate layoffs and other provisions through their contracts with management, Google’s union efforts are more focused on fostering employee activism and corporate governance. Representatives say workplace concerns have been dismissed by executives for too long.
Tech companies have for the most part opposed union formation because they feared stifling innovation. While Google has been a kind of hub for employee activism in Silicon Valley, such as conducting sexual harassment forays into 2018, America’s tech capital is a stranger to the labor movement at best, and an enemy at worst.
Just last year, Kickstarter employees teamed up in February to create an industry first for the technology sector. A much smaller company, coding platform Glitch, voted to unionize in March, but it wasn’t enough to prevent layoffs in May before a contract could be agreed.
Meanwhile, Amazon Alabama warehouse workers are on the verge of voting on whether or not to form their own union after recently reviewing the conditions the company’s workers are suffering, particularly during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The creation of the Google union was fueled by workers’ concerns about senior executives working with repressive governments around the world who benefited from hate group ads and ignored problems with keeping people of color. Most recently, the tech giant was accused of unfairly treating minority workers after firing Timnit Gebru, a black artificial intelligence researcher and ethicist who was fired after criticizing the company’s algorithms and abandoning prejudice.
According to union officials, Alphabet is preventing workers from discussing sensitive issues such as antitrust law and monopoly power while the company faces increasing government investigations.
Nicki Anselmo, a program manager for Google, said in a statement that Google employees have seen results in longstanding activism, including protests against controversial government contracts like Project Maven and payouts for executives implicated in sexual harassment scandals.
“Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” said Anselmo.
Trade unions have become much more common in the media industry in recent years. Many traditional newspaper workers such as the New York Times, magazine staff such as Condé Nast, and digital news professionals such as Vox Media have organized themselves largely with CWA’s NewsGuild and the Writers Guild of America.
In an opinion piece in the New York Times today, two union officials, Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, wrote that their union “will make sure workers know what they are working on and can do their jobs for a fair wage without fear of abuse , Retaliation or discrimination. “