By DEAN COHEN and ERNIE GOTTA
A group of Google workers announced their intention this week to unionize. Over 400 workers at Google’s parent company, Alphabet, based in California’s Silicon Valley, have formed the Alphabet Workers Union. The new union is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America / International Union of Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers.
A statement on the Alphabet Workers Union website says, “We recognized that our power as Alphabet workers—full-time employees, temporary employees, vendors, and contractors—comes from our solidarity with one another.”
Big Tech companies have grown by leaps and bounds. In 2019 the five biggest companies in the U.S. were tech-based, and their profits had risen by a third. The drive comes after years of failures in trying to organize Big Tech. Among the many obstacles have been the geographically widespread workforce, the relatively high wages, and the fact that so many of the workers are considered “independent contractors.”
This new organizing effort is trying to address these issues by creating a “minority union,” which does not have to take the traditional route of going through the National Labor Relations Board for certification and bargaining with the company for a contract but still has collective bargaining protections under existing labor law.
Alphabet workers say, “We want to wield our power to ensure:
● Our working conditions are inclusive and fair,
● Perpetrators of harassment, abuse, discrimination, and retaliation are held accountable,
● We have the freedom to decline to work on projects that don’t align with our values,
● All workers, regardless of employment status, can enjoy the same benefits.”
The workers have been building their union in secret now for more than a year. Workers, fed up with Google’s constant claims of how much good it does for its workforce (and, indeed, the whole world!), and the recent firing of the company’s AI ethics head, Timnit Gebru, began signing union cards and affiliating with CWA Local 1400. The union has a daunting task ahead of it, the signing up of Alphabet’s North American workforce—which numbers over 120,000 full-time employees and around 130,000 temps, part-timers, and contractors! Google’s two-tier system generally pays temporary workers substantially less than full-timers—an issue that workers have protested. Contingent labor accounts for some 40 to 50 percent of the workforce at most technology companies, according to estimates by OnContracting, a website cited by The New York Times.
A successful organizing drive could alter the course of organized labor’s relation to Big Tech. This effort could set an example for non-union workers at Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, whose combined wealth is in the trillions of dollars. They would be joining with Kickstarter workers who unionized in 2020 after a long fight to become the first white-collar tech company to unionize in U.S. history. This is going to prove to be a long and arduous task. Whether the CWA and the rest of the American Labor Movement is up to that task remains to be seen.
Top illustration by General Strike Graphics.