By marino January 5, 2021 In Code

Google Employees Form Union in a Rare Silicon Valley Organizing Effort

A union. The rift between Google employees and management continued to escalate Monday, when 226 workers revealed they had formed the Alphabet Workers Union, a reference to Google’s parent company.

  • The group will be supported by the Communications Workers of America, which operates in the IT and telecom industries.

Why it matters: In Silicon Valley, unions are rarer than personal style. Salaries aren’t particularly contentious because they’re already quite high, and the tech industry’s globally scattered workforces are hard to organize, per the NYT. So this development is…a major development.

But it’s not surprising

For years, Google employees have criticized management for their approach to issues including sexual harassment in the workplace, the company’s work with the Pentagon, and treatment of contract workers. A few examples:

  • In 2018, more than 20,000 Googlers walked out of work to protest the company’s handling of sexual assault claims.
  • That same year, thousands of employees signed a petition protesting Google’s work with Project Maven, a Defense Department initiative that could theoretically improve the precision of drone strikes. Google discontinued the contract.
  • The most recent flashpoint was the December 2020 firing of leading AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, a Black woman who said Google dismissed her because she was fighting bias in algorithms.

In response to the new union, Google’s Director of People Operations Kara Silverstein said, “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.”

Zoom out: Other labor organizing efforts in tech are in the works. Kickstarter workers unionized last year, and Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama will likely vote in a few weeks on whether to form the company’s first U.S. union.