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Google Parent Company Workers Announce Unionization Effort

More than 200 employees at Google parent company Alphabet announced plans to form a union Monday, joining with the Communications Workers of America to organize full-time and contract workers alike.

by Chase DiFeliciantonio, San Francisco Chronicle / January 5, 2020
A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on January 30, 2014 in Mountain View, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/TNS) TNS

(TNS) — More than 200 employees at Google parent company Alphabet announced plans to form a union Monday, joining with the Communications Workers of America to organize full-time and contract workers alike.

The move comes after public walkouts and controversies over employee dismissals at Google in recent years.

Members and union founders pointed to recent high-profile firings at Google as well as its handling of pay equity and harassment at work, creating a need for the union. Disputes over government contracts, particularly work on drone technology with military applications, also created cause for pushing back, they said.

"This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers," said Nicki Anselmo, a program manager at Google and union member, in a statement.

Thousands of Google employees staged a walkout in 2018 over the company's handling of sexual harassment in the workplace. More recently, a raft of workers signed a statement castigating the company for how it handled a dispute with a now-former researcher, Timnit Gebru, that accused the company of treating her unfairly.

Last month, the National Labor Relations Board gave a group of engineers fired by the company permission to bring a retaliation case against the company.

"We've always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce." Kara Silverstein, Google's director of people operations, said in an emailed statement. "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," she added.

Internal activism at Silicon Valley companies, particularly among the white-collar, full-time workforce, over culture and compensation is not uncommon. But unions are historically rare. Many tech companies got their start in the South Bay to avoid San Francisco's perceived friendliness to unions, and in recent decades, they have lavished elite technical workers with high pay and benefits.

That Google is one of the largest and most powerful companies, responsible for a large portion of the world's internet traffic and online advertising revenue, makes the union that much more notable.

Including contract workers in a union framework is even rarer.

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, two Google workers and founding members of the union, Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw, sought to frame the unionization effort as a continuation of Google's early "Don't be evil" principle.

While only a small fraction of the more than 130,000 Alphabet employees worldwide are involved in it presently, the union drive is less focused on obtaining recognition and striking a contract and more on creating a center of gravity for ongoing activism at the company.

Organizers pointed to successful efforts in the past to win concessions from the company.

Increasing benefits and pay for contract workers and ending forced arbitration at the company as well as stopping Pentagon projects workers felt violated the company's ethical principles were some of those successes.

"From the start, Alphabet has had a culture of workers speaking up when the company made mistakes," organizers wrote on their website.

(c)2021 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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