Google is far from perfect, but with a union, things can get better

Google Campus Logo
Google Campus Logo (Image credit: Android Central)

Everyone who works for or at an Alphabet-owned property now has a union they can join. Dubbed the Alphabet Workers Union, it's open to full-time staff, part-time and seasonal staff, and contractors like the folks who provide security or work in the cafeteria. It's not a union in the traditional sense — there won't be a committee that bargains for vacation hours or benefit packages, but is instead a group that has a singular goal in mind: make sure every single worker at Google has a voice.

Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, executive chair and vice executive chair of the newly-formed AWU make things very clear in a New York Times opinion article:

We are the workers who built Alphabet. We write code, clean offices, serve food, drive buses, test self-driving cars and do everything needed to keep this behemoth running. We joined Alphabet because we wanted to build technology that improves the world. Yet time and again, company leaders have put profits ahead of our concerns. We are joining together — temps, vendors, contractors, and full-time employees — to create a unified worker voice. We want Alphabet to be a company where workers have a meaningful say in decisions that affect us and the societies we live in.

This isn't the first time Google employees have unionized, but it is the first time a union for all employees and workers of any tech company has been formed. It's also already official — because of the type of union the AWU is there is no need for any sort of legal process. The union simply states its intentions and people are welcome to join. As of now, there are over 400 members.

Google Walkout

Source: Stephen Lam / REUTERS (Image credit: Source: Stephen Lam / REUTERS)

Google does more than make some of the best Android phones and other products. It is a company with a very diverse staff. It's not as diverse as it could be, but diversity is usually seen as a plus and not a liability. What's the best way to represent people of color or people with disabilities through your products? Have those people help build them.

This is a great idea in theory and most likely works well the majority of the time, but we've all seen how things can break down into a situation where an overrepresented group calls all of the shots. When that overrepresented group is the executive leadership team, things tend to go poorly.

Most recently, the company fired Dr. Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial intelligence researcher, for no reason whatsoever. The firing has caused outrage from thousands of us, including Black and Brown workers who are heartbroken by the company's actions and unsure of their future at Google. — AWU press release

We've also seen what can happen when enough Google workers show solidarity and rally against company policy they don't agree with. We've seen Google pull out of defense department contracts and stop working on a censored version of search designed to placate the CCP because enough employees banded together to protest. Google workers — all Google workers — deserve this level of support when Google says or does something its employees don't agree with, or even worse, affects someone's livelihood because they disagree with an executive decision.

Is this an effective strategy?

CWA March on Washington

Source: Communication Workers of America (Image credit: Source: Communication Workers of America)

Maybe. Google has over 250,000 employees and thus far only 400 or so have joined the AWU. And while the AMU is working with the Communication Workers of America, being a minority union — where organizers don't have to get a majority of workers to vote through an official National Labor Relations Board official tally — has its restrictions. But it also has benefits.

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Because the AWU is a minority union, temporary workers, contractors, and seasonal workers can participate. Google, like many other companies, hires a lot of temporary workers and contractors who don't receive the same benefits as a full-time Google employee would. Because those workers are also eligible to join the AWU they are suddenly granted the same voice as a full-time employee member.

But still, right now this is a numbers game. Unless the number of workers who join the AWU reaches a critical mass, Google can at best ignore them and at worst retaliate against them through things like bad performance reviews. Or worse.

How has Google reacted?

Sundar Pichai

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Google has issued a blanket statement saying "of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support" and little else. And to be frank, with only a few hundred members of a newly formed union that's all it needs to say. But should the numbers swell, the company will have to act.

If the AWU grows into numbers that could affect Google's bottom line, expect turmoil at the least.

It's already prepared to act, too. In 2019 the company hired IRI Consultants to quell employee organizing activity. IRI is known for its anti-union efforts, and once a contract was signed five worker-activists were promptly fired by Google.

Should the AWU target profitable yet controversial programs Google has in partnership with the U.S. Government expect to see severe crackdowns on union organization and employee activism as a whole. I'm not saying that I think Google's leadership doesn't care about its employees, but I am saying it cares more about the company's bottom line.

That's what executives and bean counters should care about if they work for a huge Silicon Valley corporation. And it's why a union should be in place to care about the people who keep it up and running. The AWU doesn't exist to make sure the candy bins in the common areas are always filled or to fight for another week's paid vacation. It's there to make sure that everyone is treated with dignity and fairly.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • I wish everyone that joins this union would be immediately terminated. Walmart has the right approach, any store that tries to unionize gets closed.
  • So you think people should lose their jobs because they want to have rights and a defense against the faceless corporations that treat them like machines? Here's something that might give you an aneurysm; where I'm from, cashier's are allowed to sit. And restaurant workers make a living wage.
  • But why did people choose to be employed by a faceless corporation that treats them like machines in the first place?
    When you go work for Amazon, at one of their distribution facilities, you can expect long, hard, busy hours; that's the job, and everyone knows it. So why whine about losing a job you should never have had in the first place?
  • Honey... Think critically please. Are there jobs lined up on a platter for us? There are people who have no employment. Most take what they get. You don't get to pick and choose.
  • Without a union my wife would have lost her job and her benefits. So please have a seat...
  • Do you realize the history of America when there were no unions...or judging by your comment you're quite ignorant and a friggin idiot.
  • Are you a billionaire or just a bootlicker? Why is it the right approach?
  • Good stuff. Amazon Workers Union next please and thanks.
  • So many people in the US think that something good for corporations is just the American way like Superman. However anything that benifits the worker is communism. Evil. Leftists are out to destroy the world for our own gain. Figure that one out.
  • have you ever implored what the average salary and benefits and on site amenities Google employees have and have access to? Please do not compare what these "kids" are going through with the 1930 and 40's working conditions when Unions were needed.
  • Google workers also work overtime without any additional pay and are always tethered. Unions have always been needed and without them, we would still be in the 30s. Go be condescending somewhere else.
  • So many people have a warped view of Unions. They were once a good and necessary innovation when business and government were outright colluding to basically enslave people. Now most Unions are just as corrupt as the companies and politicians and actually end up hurting their members more than they help them. Hopefully this different style of Union is able to avoid that pitfall. And for those who think business and government are colluding just as much today, go pick up a history book. When Amazon starts paying their employees with "Amazon-bucks" that are only redeemable on their website for things priced at 250% of their normal USD price, then we can talk.
  • I agree, unions have outlived their usefulness.
  • Remember, unions need companies. Companies don't need unions.
  • Remember, companies need employees and there is power in numbers.
  • The only perfect company in this world is Apple.
  • Lol. What a joke.
  • unions might be more effective if its leadership ever spent any time building, growing, and maintaining a business, dealing with regulations, competition, employees, lawsuits, posturing boards of directors, etc.
  • This is the stupidest union I've ever heard of. You get to pay 1% of your salary as dues, and get 0% negotiated increase on that salary? No extra PTO? No better health care benefits? Sounds like it's just a club for the hard-core SJWs in the company, with a money grab to boot.
  • Before I even clicked, I knew Jerry had written this article lol. I agree with his sentiment. However, I think a union would end up hurting the employees. I'm not anti-union. I just think current unions seldom work as advertised.
  • I know ........ arcade rooms, beach volley ball, bikes sushi, steaks, lobster, clams all you can eat snacks, and drinks , on site laundry and dry cleaning, Work at home whenever you want beyond the pandemic, 6 and 7 figure salaries, health and retirement benefits fit for a king, . The horror these employees are going through.
  • for some. Others get to do the landscaping for $35k per year and get 9 paid holidays and shitty health insurance to show for it as benefits. Or do those people not count for some reason?
  • That's a question for the landscaping companies that hired them. Contract companies are responsible for their employers. It's the same everywhere. I work at a law firm and we have contracted out mail room staff, some IT staff, we aren't responsible for their salary and benefits Ricoh and the the IT tech contractors are. and let's be honest that's not who is starting this Union and you know it, it's spoiled Woke SJW millennials who have no idea how good they have it. It's quite tone deaf to be honest with you, when there are so many people out of work, so many people who have lost their livelihoods, their small business and these spoiled brats want to complain? About what? How their social justice values needs to be the ruling voice of the company? They are completely clueless of what is going on in the real world.
  • I 90% agree with you. Well said.
  • Well said. It sounds like Google employees started a union for hurt feelings. Several writers at AC should think about starting one because more and more articles are nothing but whine fests.
  • Google employees could find out real quick how much can be done from overseas.
  • I wish unions on every liberal company. Always starts out with good intentions, then usually destroys every company in the long run. Hope facebook and twitter are next.
  • Say goodbye to all the free Google Services software. Be careful what you wish for people. You just might get it.
  • Exactly boswd. Amazon's run by a huge lib but he wants nothing to do with Unions. It would destroy Amazon and everyone who purchases cheaply thru them.
  • I think Google should start with their own employee's take away all the free stuff, start taking out the arcade games, dismantle the ping pong tables.
    When those spoiled little millenlials realize there is no more free all you can eat Pirate Booty to grab and now they have to pay for their soy milk latte then they'll realize what they have done.
  • You're so mad about what others are doing lol. We'll see.
  • When will you people realize liberals and leftists are different? Jeff Bezos is a right winger. He's a liberal. Not a leftist. His paper also helps crush any progressive movements.
  • Not a chance. I have zero doubt that the union will do even more to suppress any non far, far, far extreme left group think and actively work to get anyone who dissents fired.
  • Alphabet offices worldwide: US-9, Ireland-1, England-3, Germany-1, Switzerland-1, Singapore-1, India-1, Australia-1, Japan-1. Does the union cover ALL employees? If not, then Alphabet has an out. They can trim down the Union offices, build up the non-union offices. If those 400 members are all in the US, then they're not getting any more since Alphabet will just grow their company somewhere else, like in India, Singapore, even Japan (they can live in internet cafe cubicles over there. Youtube it. Not good).