RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Saying “We’d had enough,” a group of workers at Google and its Alphabet corporate parent have formed a union.
Some 200 employees have signed up, the two organizers of the effort announced Monday in article written for The New York Times.
“The two of us are software engineers, and we were recently elected executive chair and vice chair of the Alphabet Workers Union, a group of more than 200 workers in the United States who believe our company’s structure needs to change,” declared Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, the executive chair and vice chair respectively of the group.
“For far too long, thousands of us at Google — and other subsidiaries of Alphabet, Google’s parent company — have had our workplace concerns dismissed by executives. Our bosses have collaborated with repressive governments around the world. They have developed artificial intelligence technology for use by the Department of Defense and profited from ads by a hate group. They have failed to make the changes necessary to meaningfully address our retention issues with people of color.”
They represent a fraction of Alphabet’s workforce, far short of the threshold needed to get formal recognition as a collective bargaining group in the U.S.
But the new union, which will be affiliated with the larger Communication Workers of America, says it will serve as a “structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company.” Its members say they want more of a voice not just on wages, benefits and protections against discrimination and harassment but also broader ethical questions about how Google pursues its business ventures.
Google didn’t immediately return an emailed request for comment Monday.
Unionization campaigns haven’t historically been able to gain much traction among elite tech workers, who earn big salaries and other perks like free food and shuttle rides to work. But workplace activism at Google and other big tech firms has grown in recent years as employers call for better handling of workplace sexual harassment and discrimination, opposition to Trump administration policies and avoiding harmful uses of the products they’re helping to build and sell.
Shaw said he and others decided to form the group after seeing colleagues pushed out of the company for their activism.
“We want to have a counterforce to protect workers who are speaking up,” Shaw said.
The union’s first members include engineers, as well as sales associates, administrative assistants and the workers who test self-driving vehicles at Alphabet automotive division Waymo. Many work at Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters, while others are at offices in Massachusetts, New York and Colorado.
“One of the reasons why it’s taken a while for workers to get to this point is because the leaders of these companies did a good job of convincing workers they were these benevolent folks who were going to provide for them, kind of a paternalistic model,” said Beth Allen, communications director at the CWA.
“That got them a long way,” Allen said, but workers have increasingly realized they need “to come together and build power for themselves and have a voice in what’s going on.”
The National Labor Relations Board typically recognizes petitions to form new unions when they get interest from at least 30% of employees in a given location or job classification in the U.S.; a majority of affected workers must then vote to form one. Alphabet has a global workforce of roughly 120,000.
Allen said the Alphabet Workers Union is not currently planning to pursue official recognition as a collective bargaining group. Instead, she said it will work similarly to public sector unions in states that don’t allow public employees to bargain collectively.
“We’d love to get direct legal representation but the focus right now is we’re not going to depend on that,” Shaw said.