Picture: 123RF/PANITHAN FAKSEEMUANG
Picture: 123RF/PANITHAN FAKSEEMUANG

San Francisco — Employees of Google and parent company Alphabet announced the creation of a union on Monday, escalating years of confrontation between workers and management of the internet giant.

The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) said it will be open to all employees and contractors, regardless of their role or classification. It will collect dues, pay organising staff and have an elected board of directors.

The unionising effort, a rare campaign within a major US internet company, is supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) as part of a recent tech-focused initiative known as CODE-CWA. Googlers who join the AWU will also be members of CWA Local 1400.

“We will hire skilled organisers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values,” Dylan Baker, a software engineer at Google, said in a statement.

A successful Alphabet union could limit executives’ authority, while inspiring similar efforts across Silicon Valley, which has mostly avoided unionisation so far. The group said it plans to take on issues including compensation, employee classification and the kinds of work Google engages in.

The announcement did not specify whether the new organisation will try to secure majority support among Alphabet’s workforce, formal recognition by Alphabet or collective bargaining with the company, a process that has been aggressively resisted by US corporations. CWA’s membership includes some workers, such as public university employees in Tennessee, who engage in collective action while lacking legal collective bargaining rights.

Google has clashed with some employees in recent years over contracts with the military, the different treatment of contract workers, and a rich exit package for an executive ousted for alleged sexual harassment.

Google worker protests in 2018 forced the company to let a Pentagon artificial intelligence (AI) contract lapse. Employee uprisings also led the company to limit the use of forced arbitration that same year.

CWA has been supporting Google activists since at least 2019, when the union filed a complaint with the National Labour Relations Board alleging workers were fired for taking collective action. In December, the agency’s general counsel took up some of those allegations, accusing Google of illegally firing, interrogating and surveilling activist employees.

Google has denied wrongdoing, saying it supports workers’ rights and that the employees in question were punished for “serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility”.

Bloomberg

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