A smattering of Googlers, YouTubers and Waymo staff have formed the Alphabet Workers Union, in a move that could revolutionize the tech industry — or merely result in about 200 Google employees getting fired for vague “performance” reasons.
Google officially removed the old motto “Don’t Be Evil” from the corporate code of conduct sometime around April or May of 2018, as the invented parent company Alphabet had trouble following the letter of that law with their new aspirations of developing artificial intelligence for military drones and making bank off racist and hate group advertisements. It has not helped morale in Mountainview when a serial sexual misconduct accusee got a $90 million golden parachute, and when they recently ousted a respected researcher for calling out the company’s diversity issues.
Those ethical issues, plus the shabby treatment of contractors, have some Google employees feeling they may be able to push back. In a bombshell op-ed in today’s New York Times, a splinter group of Googlers announced they’ve formed a union called the Alphabet Workers Union.
“Our bosses have collaborated with repressive governments around the world,” write the two Google engineers spearheading the effort. “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.”
It may seem odd that Google, known for its lavish salaries and extravagant employee perks, is facing an internal unionization revolt. But understand that more than half of Google’s workforce are contractors and temps who do not get those benefits. The union insists they’ll be looking out for those folks too.
We're Alphabet workers. We’ve been organizing for over a year, & we’re finally ready to share why.— Alphabet Workers Union (@AlphabetWorkers) January 4, 2021
This morning, we're announcing #AWU, the first union open to *all* workers at any Alphabet company.
Every worker deserves a union—including tech workers.https://t.co/m2Qmjwz32V
“They are paid lower salaries, receive fewer benefits, and have little job stability compared with full-time employees, even though they often do the exact same work,” the unionizers write. “They are also more likely to be Black or brown — a segregated employment system that keeps half of the company’s work force in second-class roles. Our union will seek to undo this grave inequity.”
In response to this very unwelcome development, Alphabet's director of people operations (yes, that is what they call it) Kara Silverstein saint in a statement to CNBC that "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."
Hundreds of workers at Alphabet, Google's parent company, announced that they have formed a union, a rare move within Silicon Valley that is set to increase the tension between the tech giant and its employees https://t.co/R52kMClyvt— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) January 4, 2021
This is all being hailed as historic and a landmark moment in the tech industry, but frankly, we’ll see where this goes before getting our hopes up. At the moment, there are only 200-ish employees who’ve signed on to this unionization effort, out of a global workforce that is more than 130,000 people. Google/Alphabet probably fires at least 200 employees every single business day. And don’t be surprised if some manner of sudden “issues with their performance” cause these 200-some-odd people to be among those fired, and likely without the $90 million severance package.
Image: @gregbulla via Unsplash