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Google workers join forces to establish a members-only labor union

Organizers feel they can gain support due to reported workplace abuses

Photo (c) 400tmax - Getty Images
More than 200 Google and Alphabet workers have banded together, trumpeting their intention to form a labor union -- The Alphabet Workers Union -- which will be open to both employees and contractors.

Its goal will be to tackle ongoing issues like disparity in pay, mistreatment, and controversial government contracts -- many of the issues that a group of U.S. senators pushed Google to stop in 2019. 

The structure of the union will be members-only. While going that route doesn’t allow the union to negotiate a new contract for its workforce, it will allow it to speak for any employee who seeks to participate, including temporary workers, contractors, and vendors.

“We’ve had enough”

While the organizing effort is still in its infancy and built mostly out of Google/Alphabet workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, its organizers are confident that the story they have to tell will help their effort spread.

“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,” Parul Koul, the executive chair of the Alphabet Workers Union, and Chewy Shaw, the union’s vice chair, wrote in a guest editorial in the New York Times on Sunday.

Koul and Shaw reminded the world that when Google was originally formed, its motto was “Don’t be evil,” then took the company to task for a litany of issues ranging from profiting from ads by a hate group to failing to make necessary changes to meaningfully address retention issues with people of color.

How much can be accomplished?

This is not the first time Google/Alphabet workers have joined forces to fight what they consider to be “abuses.” Organized workers at the company were able to get executives to drop Project Maven, the company’s artificial-intelligence program that the Pentagon contracted for, and Project Dragonfly, a strategy to launch a censored search engine in China. 

Still, the organizers need to prepare for a fight. If the recent past is any indication, Google/Alphabet will not take this effort lightly. Just a month ago, the company was not only accused of violating labor laws by monitoring workers, but by going even further and allegedly retaliating against -- and firing -- workers who were trying to unionize.

However, Koul and Shaw are confident that the effort can produce some positive results. They point out that some of Alphabet’s subcontractors “won a $15 minimum hourly wage, parental leave, and health insurance” after previous mobilization efforts. 

“And the practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment was ended after the November 2018 walkout -- albeit only for full-time employees, not contractors. A few months later, Google announced that it would end forced arbitration for employees for all claims,” the pair wrote.

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