Labor & Employment Law Daily New Alphabet Workers Union skips the NLRB process to form collective action vehicle
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Thursday, January 7, 2021

New Alphabet Workers Union skips the NLRB process to form collective action vehicle

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

The AWU will be the first union open to all employees of Alphabet, no matter their role or classification.

Workers at Google and other Alphabet companies have banded together to form the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) with support from the Communications Workers of America (CWA). The AWU, formed through an alternative to the usual route of an NLRB-sanctioned election for particular bargaining units of employees, will be the first union open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company, with dues-paying members, an elected board of directors, and paid organizing staff, according to the CWA.

CWA initiative. The new union is part of the CWA’s CODE-CWA—Coalition to Organize Digital Employees—project, meaning that the workers will be members of CWA Local 1400. This latest unionization follows successful union drives by other Google workers, such as HCL contract workers in Pittsburgh and cafeteria workers now with UNITE HERE! in the Bay Area, as well as unions formed by workers at other tech companies like Kickstarter and Glitch.

But the AWU will the first union that is open to all employees of Alphabet, no matter their role or classification.

CWA structure. The new union plans to work with the CWA until it has learned enough to strategically run its own local. In the meantime it is also subject to the bylaws of Local 1400 and the CWA constitution. Membership is available to any worker employed by Alphabet or within its network of subsidiary and vendor companies, throughout the United States and Canada. Membership approval will not be made based on craft, skill, age, race, caste, gender, sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs or affiliation, disability, immigration status, or any other protected characteristic. Membership is also available to those in the process of contesting their firing.

Members in good standing who retire or otherwise leave AWU’s community of interest may join the retiree council of Local 1400 for a one-time fee of $25, and may continue to participate in some AWU activities.

Voting rights. AWU members have the right to vote on:

  • Election of the AWU Executive Council;
  • Chapter and Workplace Unit representation on the Steering Committee;
  • Chapter Coordinators;
  • Workplace Unit Stewards; and
  • Amendments to its Articles.

Among other things, AWU members and the CWA Local 1400 Executive Board have the right to vote on the amount and frequency of AWU dues. CWA Local 1400 members, including AWU members, have the right to vote on the election of the Local 1400 Executive Board. The AWU is large enough to have significant democratic power within Local 1400; the Local 1400 Executive Board has committed to permitting it choose its own path for organizing Alphabet.

Google moving in the wrong direction. Although Google began as a small tech company, it has become one of the most influential companies in the world. Alphabet, its parent company, now has more than 120,000 workers. It’s responsible for vast swaths of the internet, controlling tools used by billions of people across the world, with subsidiaries as varied as Waymo, Verily, Fitbit, and Wing.

But half of Google workers at Alphabet companies are hired as temps, vendors, or contractors, without the benefits afforded to full-time employees. Executives have been awarded tens of millions of dollars in exit packages after documented sexual harassment against fellow Googlers, according to the CWA. The company also has taken on what many workers consider unethical government contracts, such as drone targeting for the military—Project Maven—and kept the nature of that technology secret even to the Googlers working on those projects.

Most recently, the company purportedly fired Dr. Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial intelligence researcher, for no reason—or as some in the media saw it, as the epilogue to an email that accused Google of “silencing marginalized voices.” The firing of the Black woman caused outrage from thousands of employees, including Black and Brown workers who are “heartbroken” by the company’s actions and unsure of their future at Google, the union observed.

Push back against organizing. Workers who have organized to stop these trends have been met by intimidation, suppression, and blatantly illegal firings, recently confirmed by the NLRB, according to the CWA. Google hired IRI, a notorious anti-union firm, in effort to suppress organizing.

Collective action is the way to go. The CWA said that collective action is the only tactic that has ensured workers are respected and heard, citing Project Maven, which was cancelled when thousands of Googlers pledged they would not work on unethical technology. Forced arbitration was ended at the company when Googlers walked out across the globe.

The AWU is intended, say its organizers, to be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at Google, from the kinds of contracts that the company accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members.

“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” said Nicki Anselmo, Program Manager. “From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade.”

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