Google, Alphabet employees unionize

A group of more than 200 Google and Alphabet workers have announced the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union, The New York Times first reported. With the help of Communication Workers of America Union’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA), the union will be open to both employees and contractors.

Of the roughly 227 workers who have so far signed on to support the union, they have all committed to set aside 1% of the yearly compensation to go toward union dues. Those dues will be used to help compensate folks for lost wages in the event of a strike. The bulk of the workers who have signed on are mostly based in offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Cambridge.

To be clear, though, the Alphabet Workers Union is a bit untraditional. The current union consists of just 227 workers out of Alphabet’s 132,121 people. For the Alphabet union, the intent is not necessarily to be able to bargain with Alphabet-owned companies but to be able to work collectively toward common goals.

“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” Dylan Baker, a software engineer at Google, said in a statement. “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.”

This union comes following the creation of unions at tech companies Kickstarter and Glitch early last year. Additionally, workers at HCL Technologies workers who contract for Google in Pittsburgh and tech company cafeteria workers in the Bay Area formed unions last year.

“You have an industry of workers — the new generation of workers and the industry, especially tech and games, has been growing exponentially with young people,” CODE-CWA union organizer Wes McEnany previously told TechCrunch about why we’re seeing more tech companies organize. “Some of them make a lot of money and are working at companies that do really bad things. I think they’re at a position socially where they’re like enough is enough.”

Google has been at the center of a plethora of labor issues over the past few years. Between the the Google walkout, the reported retaliation against organizers of the walkout and the recent departure of Dr. Timnit Gebru, it should come as no surprise that folks at the company decided to make their organizing efforts more official.

In a press release, workers also pointed to how more than half of the people who work at Alphabet companies are contract workers and therefore lack many benefits. Additionally, workers take issue with hefty payout packages to executives accused of harassment, as well as with some of the company’s government contracts, such as the one around military drone targeting.

Meanwhile, just last month, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Google alleging the company violated parts of the National Labor Relations Act by surveilling employees, and generally interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB also alleges Google discouraged “its employees from forming, joining, assisting a union or engaging in other protected, concerted activities,” the complaint stated.

Those are just some of the reasons why workers unionized. However, they do not currently have the legal right to collectively bargain over workplace conditions.

In a traditional process, the next step would be to seek recognition from Alphabet, which can be difficult. When workers asked for voluntary recognition from Kickstarter in 2019, the company’s leadership refused to do so, despite workers having majority support. Instead, Kickstarter leadership forced workers to have a formal election with the National Labor Relations Board. It all worked out for Kickstarter workers in the end but it took about 10 months from going public with its efforts to being recognized as the Kickstarter Union.

In a statement, to TechCrunch, Google Director of People Operations Kara Silverstein, provided the following statement to TechCrunch after the original publication of the article:

“We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

Once official, Alphabet Workers Union will be part of CWA Local 1400.

“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” Nicki Anselmo, a program manager at Google, said in a statement. “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.”

Workers also published an op-ed in the New York Times detailing why they decided to launch a union campaign.

This story has been updated to clarify the structure of the Alphabet Workers Union.