US Google workers form union as scrutiny of tech giants grows


Around 200 Google employees have formed the company’s first ever union.

Workers at Google and other units of parent firm Alphabet announced the creation on Monday, local time, of a union, ramping up a period of activism that has attempted to hold Silicon Valley giants responsible for their business ethics.

The Alphabet Workers Union, affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, aims to represent full-time tech executives as well as temporary workers and visa holders, and contractors, according to a statement.

It is an unusual step for an industry that is innovative and competitive, but lacks across the board regulation of its approach to human resources or executive leadership protocols.

The new labour group will target pay and benefits as its immediate concerns, but will also play a role in ethical decisions such as whether Google can punish its employees for online activities such as political activism and social justice.

“This is historic,” says Google software engineer Dylan Baker in a press release. “The first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers.”

“We hope to create a democratic process for workers to wield decision-making power; promote social, economic, and environmental justice; and end the unfair disparities between TVCs (temporary, vendors and contractors) and FTEs (full time employees),” the union’s website said.

The tech giants, some of which generously compensate software engineers and skilled IT workers, and provided famed environments and amenities in their workplace “campuses”, such as the “Googleplex”, have mostly avoided addressing the issue of formalising labour standards.

The past few years have seen growing criticism of sexism, lack of diversity, and discrimination in the tech workplace, and unrest over the amount of power wielded by certain companies over their labour forces, many of which are composed of migrant work visa holders.

The recent firing of Timnit Gebru, a black artificial intelligence ethics researcher and diversity activist may have been a catalyst for the forming of the Alphabet union.

One recent watershed moment involved Amazon, and the workplace safety standards that have seen thousands of warehouse workers feel exposed during the pandemic in the US where infection cases continue to surge even as people become more reliant on Amazon services.

Asked about the union, Google’s director of people operations Kara Silverstein, said in a statement: “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce.

“Of course our employees have protected labour rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

The formation of the union comes as companies like Facebook and Google get caught up in antitrust probes globally and growing calls for the break-up of tech monopolies.

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