A workers union composed of a large number of white-collar employees at Google was announced on January 4th.
Around 200 employees and contractors at Google and the parent company Alphabet Inc, have formed a union named Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) on January 4th 2021. According to the elected leaders, Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, the union aims to secure fair wage for workers, without any fear of abuse and discrimination. The union is said to collect 1% of workers dues to be used for events, wages in the case of labour strikes, and legal support. It is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). It was set up with the assistance of the campaign run by the Coalition to Organise Digital Employees (CODE-CWA).
Majority of the members are concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a few from Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Union is the result of protests and opposition from Google and Alphabet employees, against the company’s handling sexual harassment cases as well as its contracts with the US military. The company has also been accused of terminating and monitoring workers who were part of walkouts and demonstrations in response to workplace harassment.
In the last year, Google came under the scrutiny of the National Labour Relations Board for monitoring and questioning employees, as well as terminating their employment, after they had staged protests and tried to unionise in response to the company’s policies. The NLRB reported that the company had unlawfully terminated workers for accessing company policy internal forum documents. The Board also made note that there were several policies in place aimed to deter workplace unionising. While Google maintains it had acted legally and had only terminated the employees for their violations of the company’s policies, it becomes clear that the company is extremely hostile to unionising and any type of collective action.
It is important to note that the union is the first of white-collar workers in a major tech company. Security Guards as well as Cafeteria workers have previously unionised at Google. This is the first time white-collar workers have been a part, however. In addition, the Alphabet Workers Union includes temps, vendors as well as contractors also collectable termed as TVCs. The hostility of Google towards unionizing is part of a larger anti-union and anti-labour law environment within tech. Intel Cofounder, Robert Noyce describes exactly this when he says, “remaining non-union is essential for survival for most of our companies.”
In an essay published on n+1 Magazine, Alex Press writes, “ Hostility to unions has been foundational to the tech industry. In its idealized self-image, tech is a meritocracy governed by speed, efficiency, and competition, in which companies can acquire and shed workers as needed.” In other words, the weak job security of workers is essential in maintaining convenient flexibility within the market. This feeds into the overly competitive, so-called ‘high-performing’ atmosphere within these companies. Instituting labour laws that strengthen job security weakens this convenient flexibility considerably. The press goes on to mention how the setting up of various tech companies in Silicon Valley was in many ways an attempt to escape East Coast Unions, as “labour -management battles were part of the ancient terrain of the East”.
It will be essential to see how Google responds in terms of its company policies and labour laws, to the recent move. Additionally, it will be interesting to see if other major tech companies see similar unions forming among various sections of workers.