This month, more than 600 Google employees and contractors banded together to form the Alphabet Workers Union.
With support from the labor union known as Communications Workers of America, the Alphabet Workers Union wants to make changes in the workplace. This is the first such effort by a technology company. Let us find out more.
What is a Labor Union?
A labor union is a group that gathers together to make decisions regarding conditions at work. Typically, workers will elect a smaller group of people to bargain with employers, demanding better pay, benefits, workplace safety, job hours, and other needs.
In 1768, tailors from New York went on a strike after their wages were reduced. Twenty-six years later, Philadelphia shoemakers formed the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers, one of the first unions in America.
When America underwent industrialization in the 18th and 19th centuries, factories became a breeding ground for unions. With so many people working in one place, unions and alliances between unions quickly formed, often to demand shorter working hours. Most workers in these unions were white, Protestant, and male. Female, Black, and immigrant workers were excluded and had to create their own labor unions.
One notable instance of union protests took place among Filipino and Mexican farmers from 1965 to 1970. Led by Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Philip Vera Cruz, they staged a grape boycott, eventually leading to better pay, protection, and other benefits.
The Alphabet Workers Union
Labor unions are usually large and negotiate with employers for better wages or working hours.
Google’s union has around 600 members out of 260,000 employees and contractors, making it a “minority union.” Legally, Google has no obligation to negotiate with minority unions. However, members of the Union say their purpose isn’t to bargain for benefits and better pay, but rather to put pressure on the company and address issues such as ethics and racial diversity.
For example, the union condemned Google for failing to suspend President Donald Trump’s Youtube account after the riots at the Capitol building. Google responded by taking down a video in which Trump falsely speaks of voter fraud.
Why Did Google Workers Form the Union?
Google employees have a history of activism. In 2018, Google workers from around the globe staged a walkout when the company protected executives who were accused of harassment.
The workers also rallied together because they felt that Google treated women unfairly. Recently, Google fired Timnit Gebru, an artificial intelligence researcher. She had co-authored a research paper pointing out potential ethical problems with AI language models like the one Google uses. Gebru and others believe that she was fired because of disagreements over the research paper. This pushed employees to form the Alphabet Workers Union which they hope can bring about workplace changes.
The Alphabet Workers Union may still be small, but they are prepared to make big changes at Google.
Sources: New York Times, CBS News, Investopedia, CLWF, CNBC, The Verge, LA Times, WUWM