Google Workers Form Union Open to All Employees of Alphabet

File photo of Google’s campus in Mountain View, California.
File photo of Google’s campus in Mountain View, California.
Photo: Amy Osborne (Getty Images)

Workers at Google announced on Monday that they’ve formed a union open to all workers of Alphabet, according to a press release published online. Dubbed the Alphabet Workers Union, the initiative was launched with the help of the Communications Workers of America. Members of the new union will also belong to CWA Local 1400.

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The unionization effort comes on the heels of some high-profile firings at Alphabet, most recently Dr. Timnit Gebru, an artificial intelligence researcher who had criticized the company’s pathetic diversity programs. More than 1,500 Google employees signed a petition protesting Gebru’s termination.

News of the Alphabet Workers Union was first reported by Kate Conger at the New York Times.

The new union will be open to both full-time employees of Alphabet as well as contractors, according to the press release, though it’s not clear how such an arrangement will work. Contractors in industries like journalism typically aren’t allowed to join the predominant unions of a given industry since they aren’t full-time employees and are relegated to parallel freelancer unions.

There are still plenty of questions about how the Alphabet Workers Union will be organized and it’s not even clear whether Google will formally recognize the union, something that can often be an arduous process.

Alphabet Workers Union organizing on an undated Zoom call
Alphabet Workers Union organizing on an undated Zoom call
Screenshot: Alphabet Workers Union

“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” union organizer Nicki Anselmo said in a statement posted online.

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“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively,” Anselmo continued. “Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Monday morning. We’ll update this post if we hear back.

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Update, 7:30 a.m. ET: Google has released a statement that might give some clue about its plans for the union.

“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.” — Kara Silverstein, Director of People Operations.

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That last part about “engaging directly with all our employees” will sound familiar to anyone who’s ever worked at any job with anti-union sentiments. Typically that kind of stuff is code for “fuck you and fuck your union.” But we’ll see how it goes.

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

DISCUSSION

The new union will be open to both full-time employees of Alphabet as well as contractors, according to the press release, though it’s not clear how such an arrangement will work.

It’s a Members-Only Union, not a traditional one with a defined bargaining unit and Exclusive Bargaining Agreement. That means they can admit anyone they want, although it also means they have none of the legal protections of the NLRA and Google is under no legal obligation to bargain with them.

For all intents and purposes, that means it’s an employee activist group calling itself a union (made up of a few hundred Google employees). Maybe they’ll pull in more over time, although that’s pretty small compared to Google’s overall employee count.

I wonder how long they’ll last. There’s been other groups like this before there, and they tend to suffer from brain drain in the leadership and fall apart. Online media especially tends to be desperately hoping for any signs of labor activism in the tech giants, and so the leaders of unionization efforts tend to get outsized, friendly profiles and praise that lead to outside career opportunities they then take.