January 7, 2021
Among the issues: Workers have protested several management decisions at Google’s parent company Alphabet—including the handling of sexual misconduct by former executives, the removal of an AI researcher, and a former Google partnership with the Pentagon.
News of the new Alphabet Workers Union was announced on Monday, January 4, in a New York Times op-ed by two employees, Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, who serve on the board of the Alphabet Workers Union as executive chair and vice chair, respectively.
Koul and Shaw said they have signed cards with the union, Communications Workers of America, which represents workers from companies including AT&T and Verizon. They said 226 employees have joined the union.
The new union is part of CWA’s CODE-CWA (Coalition to Organize Digital Employees) project, and the workers will be members of CWA Local 1400.The union will be open to all Alphabet workers, they said, including temp workers, vendors, and contractors. Alphabet has several subsidiaries including Google, YouTube, and the self-driving car company Waymo. Alphabet has more than 130,000 employees worldwide.
“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,” the two said in the op-ed. “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.”
Tensions have risen between employees and executives in recent years. In 2018, Google employees wrote a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai asking him to end a partnership between Google and the Pentagon. Later that year, employees around the world staged a walk-out to protest the company’s handling of executives accused of sexual misconduct, including a $90 million exit package for former Android lead Andy Rubin.
Protests also were organized in in 2019 to support two employees who were being investigated for retaliation claims. Most recently, employees created a petition to support departed AI researcher Timnnit Gebru, who said she was fired over a research paper dispute, CNBC notes..
In a statement to CNBC, Kara Silverstein, Alphabet’s director of people operations, said the company supports workers’ labor rights, but she didn’t directly address any of the group’s complaints.
“We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees,” Silverstein said in the statement.
In the op-ed, Koul and Shaw alleged that Alphabet punishes internal critics on topics important to the public, like the antitrust lawsuits against the company. They also said Google executives consolidate their power at the cost of minority groups like Black, trans, queer and disabled workers.
″Our union will work to ensure that workers know what they’re working on, and can do their work at a fair wage, without fear of abuse, retaliation or discrimination,” Shaw and Koul wrote.
Research contact: @CNBC