More than 200 Google workers have formed a union that aims to press the tech titan to live up to its former motto: “Don’t be evil.”
The Alphabet Workers Union, named for Google’s parent company, has attracted 226 card-carrying members who are fed up with bosses dismissing their concerns about discrimination, harassment and other workplace issues, the group’s leaders say.
“Each time workers organize to demand change, Alphabet’s executives make token promises, doing the bare minimum in the hopes of placating workers,” Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, Google software engineers who serve as the union’s executive chair and vice chair, wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Monday. “It’s not enough.”
The unionization effort follows years of employee activism at Google, which has drawn fire for failing to address internal problems such as sexual misconduct and retaliating against workers who speak out. And experts say it could inspire workers at other tech firms to follow suit.
“It’s a huge shot across the bow not just to Google, but across Silicon Valley,” Wedbush Securities’ Dan Ives tells The Post. “It could have a massive ripple effect with all the discontent that we’re seeing out of the employee bases of the who’s who of tech.”
The Alphabet Workers Union is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, and represents a tiny fraction of the Silicon Valley company’s roughly 120,000 workers. But it’s the union leaders’ stated mission that they hope to include Alphabet workers of all stripes — “from bus drivers to programmers, from salespeople to janitors” — that makes it one to watch.
“We’re not talking about a monolithic demographic,” corporate governance expert Eleanor Bloxham said. “We’re talking about engineers joining with less skilled workers in this effort.”
Bloxham called the union a “monumental achievement”, and said it could give workers at other companies like Facebook and Amazon a model to follow because they “see how it can be done.”
CWA, which has been quietly working with Google staffers for more than a year, certainly hopes to replicate its success elsewhere. Alphabet’s union “will provide a great example for other workers at other companies who might be interested in doing something similar,” CWA communications director Beth Allen told The Post.
Allen declined to name specific companies but she said there’s “a lot of different organizing happening in tech and elsewhere right now.”
But Silicon Valley has a rocky history with union organizing. Amazon, for example, has waged an ongoing battle against worker unionization with a Motherboard report from November revealing that the e-commerce titan hired spies from the fabled Pinkerton agency to monitor organization efforts in Europe.
Uber, meanwhile, fought tooth and nail to make certain that it would not have to recognize its California drivers as full-fledged employees.
And the National Labor Relations Board ruled last month that Google illegally monitored and then fired several workers who protested its policies and tried to organize a union.
“Our employees have protected labor rights that we support,” said Kara Silverstein, Google’s director of people operations. “But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
One of the group’s goals will be addressing the inequities between employees and contractors, who are paid less money and receive fewer benefits despite often doing the exact same work.
“They are also more likely to be black or brown — a segregated employment system that keeps half of the company’s work force in second-class roles,” Koul and Shaw wrote in their op-ed.
They criticized Google’s work with the US Department of Defense and “repressive” governments in places such as China, where the company scrapped plans to launch a censored search engine in response to internal activism.
They also cited the December ouster of Timnit Gebru, a black artificial-intelligence researcher who said she was fired after criticizing Google’s diversity efforts. Google disputed Gebru’s account of the ordeal and said she resigned.
“Our union will work to ensure that workers know what they’re working on, and can do their work at a fair wage, without fear of abuse, retaliation or discrimination,” Koul and Shaw wrote.
Despite the airing of dirty laundry, Google’s unionization effort could actually end up being positive for recruitment as some workers will be drawn to a company where they have a more formal voice, said John Freeman, an analyst at CFRA Research, said that the union could.
“Our history is that labor unions fight for people who are being exploited unfairly. This is not exactly that,” Freeman said. “It’s more that employees want a bigger voice in the sort of non-monetary things that they really care about.”
Shares of Google’s parent company Alphabet shares were down just 1.6 percent Monday afternoon, trading at $1,724.64.