Google employees kick off union membership drive for 120,000 workers

By | January 4, 2021
A large Google sign seen on a window of Google's headquarters.
Enlarge / Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet, May 2018.

More than 225 workers at Google have formally launched a company-wide union membership drive, following an increasing drive toward organization inside the company over the past several years.

All 120,000 people who work for Google parent company Alphabet, including temporary, contract, and part-time workers, will be eligible for membership in the Alphabet Workers Union, according to a joint statement from the union and the Communications Workers of America, of which it is a part.

“Our company’s motto used to be, ‘don’t be evil,'” the chair and vice chair of the new union wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “An organized workforce will help us live up to it.”

They added, “For far too long, thousands of us at Google—and other subsidiaries of Alphabet, Google’s parent company—have had our workplace concerns dismissed by executives… Both of us have heard from colleagues—some new, some with over a decade at the company—who have decided that working at Alphabet is no longer a choice they can make in good conscience.”

As of the time the Alphabet Workers Union went public on Monday, 226 workers had signed union cards, organization leadership said.

“Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support,” Kara Silverstein, director of people operations at Google, said in a statement responding to the unionization drive. “But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

A long time coming

In both their op-ed and press release, the union leaders cite several incidents in the past three years where Alphabet workers came together to protest choices made by company leadership. In 2018, for example, more than 4,000 Google employees objected to the company’s “Project Maven” drone contract with the Department of Defense, including at least 12 who resigned. Google eventually decided not to renew the contract.

Later in 2018, roughly 20,000 Googlers staged a walkout to protest the company’s (mis)handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Multiple executives who left the company amid allegations of misconduct got to step away quietly with tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation packages, eventually leading to a shareholder suit against Alphabet.

The last straw for many employees appears to have been Google’s recent firing of widely respected AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, who described the company’s decision to block publication of her research paper as part of a pervasive attitude inside Google to silence marginalized voices, including women and people of color (Gebru herself is Black).

Google has historically not taken kindly to organized resistance from its workforce. In 2019, the company secured the services of infamous union-busting firm IRI Consultants. Later that year, it fired several tech workers who were prominent internal organizers.

The National Labor Relations Board recently determined several of the 2019 firings were unlawful retaliation against legally protected workforce organization efforts and alleged that Google has a history of “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees” against protected organization activity.