Hundreds of workers at Google parent Alphabet announced that they have formed a union, a rare move within Silicon Valley that is set to increase tension between the tech company and its employees.
The group, which went public with an op-ed in The New York Times on Monday, includes 226 of Alphabet’s more than 140,000 employees and is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America union.
Now that the union was out in the open, Alan Morales, a cyber liabilities engineer and union organiser, said they expected their numbers to “grow by the thousands”.
Though the union will not have the power to renegotiate members’ employment contracts due to its size, it plans to pressure the company to prioritise ethics in product development, take reports of workplace misconduct more seriously and protect the rights of the temporary and contract workers they say compose half of Alphabet’s workforce.
“We want this union to make Alphabet and the world a better place and we want to advocate for our working conditions to make that happen,” Mr Morales said. “We realise that Google and other internet companies have products that are very relevant in our everyday lives and we think we can make the world a better place by using our collective bargaining power.”
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Unionisation is exceedingly rare among the big tech groups of Silicon Valley, although there is growing discontent among workers over companies’ handling of workers’ concerns about the uses of their products and the treatment of marginalised groups in the workplace. The newly formed Alphabet Workers Union says it is the first of its kind.
Kara Silverstein, Alphabet’s director of people operations, said in a statement: “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course our employees have protected labour rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
Leaders of the effort said they had been holding secret meetings about their employer’s shortcomings for more than a year in a covert effort that ended with the announcement.
Mr Morales said he joined the unit through colleagues he met through a past walkout over women’s issues, but said that some workers were hesitant to join due to a fear of retaliation.
The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees collective bargaining in the US, last month found that Google likely violated labour law when it surveilled and then fired two employees who publicly criticised the company and encouraged workers to organise.
“This is a company that has a history of workers speaking up when the company isn’t living up to its values, but what we’ve found over the last couple of years is that the normal cycle of petitions and press coverage is no longer enough,” said Auni Ahsan, a Google software engineer, who is also a member of the union’s executive council.
“The company was no longer listening, so we thought it was really important to come together and organise this union so we could have sustained structure and build a movement for building power in our workplace.”
Tensions were already high between Alphabet and parts of its workforce. Employees have organised several protests and walkouts in recent years including one that led the company to drop a contract with the US Department of Defense in 2018.
Union leaders say they have yet to receive a formal response from Alphabet.