Hundreds of Google Employees Unionize, Culminating Years of Activism - The New York Times
The union’s creation is highly unusual for the tech industry, which has long resisted efforts to organize its largely white-collar work force. It follows increasing demands by employees at Google for policy overhauls on pay, harassment and ethics, and is likely to escalate tensions with top leadership.
The new union, called the Alphabet Workers Union after Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was organized in secret for the better part of a year and elected its leadership last month. The group is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, a union that represents workers in telecommunications and media in the United States and Canada.
But unlike a traditional union, which demands that an employer come to the bargaining table to agree on a contract, the Alphabet Workers Union is a so-called minority union that represents a fraction of the company’s more than 260,000 full-time employees and contractors. Workers said it was primarily an effort to give structure and longevity to activism at Google, rather than to negotiate for a contract.
Chewy Shaw, an engineer at Google in the San Francisco Bay Area and the vice chair of the union’s leadership council, said the union was a necessary tool to sustain pressure on management so that workers could force changes on workplace issues.
“Our goals go beyond the workplace questions of ‘Are people getting paid enough?’ Our issues are going much broader,” he said. “It is a time where a union is an answer to these problems.”
In response, Kara Silverstein, Google’s director of people operations, said: “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our work force. 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.”
The new union is the clearest sign of how thoroughly employee activism has swept through Silicon Valley over the past few years. While software engineers and other tech workers largely kept quiet in the past on societal and political issues, employees at Amazon, Salesforce, Pinterest and others have become more vocal on matters like diversity, pay discrimination and sexual harassment.
Veena Dubal, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, said the Google union was a “powerful experiment” because it brought unionization into a major tech company and skirted barriers that had prevented such organizing.
“If it grows — which Google will do everything they can to prevent — it could have huge impacts not just for the workers but for the broader issues that we are all thinking about in terms of tech power in society,” she said.
The structure also gives the union the latitude to include Google contractors, who outnumber full-time workers and who would be excluded from a traditional union. Some Google employees have considered establishing a minority or solidarity union for several years, and ride-hailing drivers have formed similar groups.
Although they will not be able to negotiate a contract, the Alphabet Workers Union can use other tactics to pressure Google into changing its policies, labor experts said. Minority unions often turn to public pressure campaigns and lobby legislative or regulatory bodies to influence employers.
“We’re going to use every tool that we can to use our collective action to protect people who we think are being discriminated against or retaliated against,” Mr. Shaw said.