Silicon Valley could be facing its first major labor movement in the history of the technology boom: the Alphabet Workers Union, representing more than 225 employees across the company as well as temps and those with vendors and contractors in the United States and Canada, went public. The group, aligned with the Communications Workers of America, was formed in secret, tapping into years of built dissent that the corporation has failed to mitigate.
A.W.U. is looking to capitalize on issues besides wages and compensation, already high in the tech industry, like how Google executives handled sexual harassment claims in 2018, work on a stripped-down search engine for China, and, most recently, and the clandestine ouster of Timnit Gebru, a Black woman highly regarded in the AI research field, among other controversies.
The union has no contract, does not advocate on specific demands, and will wield most of its power by walking out on the job as Alphabet employees have done in the thousands during previous protests. The company last reported more than 130,000 employees on its roster while a 2019 New York Times investigation has figured more than 120,000 others are either temping or contracting for work.
A traditional union would need to hold a formal vote certified by the National Labor Relations Board. If a majority of employees approved, the group would be able to organize and seek to bargain with their employer on a contract. A.W.U., being a minority union, bypasses the formalities and foregoes those powers.
Workers are able to enter membership privately and are subject to a due of 1% of their total compensation.
Some at Google, the Times reports, were concerned about C.W.A.'s aggressive approach. One walkout leader believed that C.W.A. was potentially partnership opportunities with other labor groups, saying that it was "more concerned about claiming turf" than fulfilling workers' needs.
The key now is to see whether A.W.U. is able to generate momentum within and whether Google or Alphabet responds to a future union-branded walkout in ways it has not before.
- The New York Times