Google Employees Form Union That Will Include Contractors, Forgoing Collective Bargaining Rights

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Google union
Google Workers Unionize, Escalating Tension With Management. Photo: MMG

A group of about 230 employees at Google and its parent, Alphabet, launched a union on Monday — a rare victory for workers at a big tech company that could inspire other efforts in the industry to unionize.

Alphabet had 132,121 employees as of Sept. 30, 2020 with more than 100,000 working for Google. In addition, it had about 121,000 temporary workers and contractors as of March 2019.

What’s unusual about the Alphabet Workers Union is that it will be open to all employees and contractors in North America, regardless of their role or classification, Bloomberg reported. That means workers will push for change without traditional collective bargaining rights.

Contract workers are not federally protected by the National Labor Relations Board, the independent federal government agency responsible for enforcing U.S. labor law in collective bargaining and unfair labor practices.

Unions typically do not include contract workers. The Google union says it’s passing on the NLRB’s certification process, according to Quartz. Instead, Google workers have launched their unconventional union with the support of Communications Workers of America (CWA), a labor union representing more than 700,000 members.

Because the union is not seeking ratification through a federal agency, it will potentially be limited in its authority and influence over executives.

The Alphabet Workers Union members will pay 1 percent of their total compensation in union dues to help pay organizing staff. They’ll have an elected board of directors. The union plans to tackle issues such as compensation and ethical concerns about the kind of work Google does.

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Tech workers have aired their frustrations in public over what they say are unfair labor practices and unethical business deals in recent years, Washington Post reported. Silicon Valley has opposed efforts to unionize. Amazon recruited “intelligence analysts” to track labor organizing threats in the company. Amazon workers trying to form a union at a warehouse in Alabama and Google contractors in Pittsburgh voted to form a union.

Protests by Google workers in 2018 led to the company letting a Pentagon artificial intelligence contract lapse. Also in 2018, thousands of workers walked out, resulting in Google limiting the use of forced arbitration.

CWA has been pursuing tech-focused organizing, according to Bloomberg. In 2018, it joined a coalition urging the Federal Trade Commission to break up Facebook.

Workers involved in the new Alphabet union said it could provide a more permanent structure for pressuring management, holding the company accountable for promised changes and responding to retaliation against activists. The organization plans to use protests, legislative, regulatory and legal tactics and to weigh in on issues such as antitrust scrutiny of Google, according to Bloomberg.