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Google workers in the US and Canada have formed a union after years of clashes between staff and execs

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Google workers in the US and Canada have formed a union after years of clashes between staff and execs
Google workers in the US and Canada have formed a union after years of clashes between staff and execs
The Alphabet Workers Union is open to all Alphabet employees across the US and Canada, including contractors and temporary workers.
  • More than 200 staff at Google's parent company Alphabet have formed the Alphabet Workers Union, which is open to all employees across the US and Canada.
  • The union says it aims to promote inclusivity, push for more transparency for employees, and ensure Alphabet acts ethically.
  • Google has come under fire from both workers and ethicists over workplace sexual harassment, targeted drone strike technology, and the recent firing of AI researcher Dr. Timnit Gebru.
  • "Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade," Nicki Anselmo, program manager at Google, said in a statement.
  • "We've always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce," Kara Silverstein, Google's director of people operations, told Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

More than 200 staff at Google's parent company Alphabet have formed a union in a rare move for a Silicon Valley tech company.

The Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) announced its formation on Monday after a year of running off-radar.

All Alphabet employees across the US and Canada will be able to join the union, including contractors and temporary staff, making it the first union of its kind at the company.

The union says it isn't organized around a list of demands or specific issues, but instead aims to promote inclusive working conditions and ensure Alphabet acts ethically in the best interests of society and the environment.

The union is also pushing for more transparency from Alphabet on what employees' work is used for, and said that workers should be allowed to decline to work on projects that don't align with their individual values. That comes amid internal outcry over Google's work with the US military, and concerns over the ethics of artificial intelligence.

"We need to know the impact of our work, whether it's on Alphabet workers, our communities, or the world," AWU said.

The union will collect dues from members, equivalent to 1% of their total compensation. The union will have paid organizing staff and an elected board of directors.

Unions in the US are typically formed after an election by the National Labor Relations Board. But the Alphabet Workers Union is forming without this federal ratification, meaning it won't have collective bargaining rights.

Read more: After a Twitter thread exposed the mistreatment of Black employees at Google, I ended my company's partnership to connect HBCU students with the tech giant. Here's why we decided to pull the plug.

The union is part of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 1400, and all AWU members will be CWA Local 1400 members. Local 1400 will take on AWU's legal responsibilities, process dues, and handle its bank accounts and membership records.

AWU noted that though it has "significant influence" within Local 1400, it hopes to ultimately become its own Local separate from 1400.

"This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers," Nicki Anselmo, program manager at Google, said in a statement, describing how staff have "seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively."

"Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade," she added.

Alphabet software engineer Dylan Baker called the union's formation "historic," noting that it is "the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers."

Google and Alphabet workers are becoming increasingly dissatisfied

On its website, AWU describes growing unrest among workers.

Alphabet has more than 120,000 workers globally, but AWU noted that half of Google workers are hired as temps, vendors, or contractors, meaning they don't have access to the benefits offered to full-time employees. 

Despite this, "executives have been awarded tens of millions of dollars in exit packages after documented sexual harassment against fellow Googlers," AWU said. In October 2018, CEO Sundar Pichai said 48 employees were fired for sexual harassment in just two years. The New York Times reported in 2018, to public outcry, that Google had handed Android creator Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package after a sexual harassment investigation. Days later, almost 17,000 Google employees went on strike.

Internal tensions over the Alphabet's work with the US government have also spilled into public view. The firm had won a contract with the defense department on Project Maven, a drone warfare project, triggering months of protests among employees. The firm said in 2018 it would not renew the contract, which was taken over by tech firm Palantir.

"And the company has taken on unethical government contracts, like drone targeting for the military, yet kept the nature of that technology secret even to the Googlers working on those projects," the AWU said.

AWU also noted how Google had removed its previous motto - "Don't Be Evil" - from its mission statement.

The union also referred to Dr. Timnit Gebru, the leading artificial intelligence researcher fired by Google in December. The incident left staff "seriously pissed," Google employees previously told Insider.

"Workers who have organized to stop these trends have been met by intimidation, suppression, and blatantly illegal firings," AWU said. "Instead of listening to workers, Google hired IRI, a notorious anti-union firm, to suppress their organizing. This is how Google's executives have chosen to interact with workers."

In December, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint alleging Google illegally spied on employee activists, fired them, and blocked workers from organizing.

"We've always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce," Kara Silverstein, Google's director of people operations, told Insider.

"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."

Read the original article on Business Insider
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