Google employees are forming the Alphabet Workers Union, both to push their parent company toward greater social responsibility and to ensure workers are treated fairly.
It’s a rare occurrence in the technology industry, but Andrew Gainer-Dewar, a software engineer at Google and a founding member of the union, said Alphabet workers have a history of workplace activism. In 2018, more than 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout over the parent company’s handling of issues of sexual harassment. And just last month, roughly 2,000 Google employees signed a letter requesting transparency about the exit of Dr. Timnit Gebru from the company. She’s an AI researcher who criticized Alphabet’s lack of diversity.
“We want to see Alphabet’s leadership move towards more accountability,” Gainer-Dewar said. “We want to see them take responsibility for what we’ve built and for its potential to both do really amazing things for people, but also to provide a space where really horrible things can spread and grow.”
Gainer-Dewar said the power of YouTube, an Alphabet subsidiary, was on display last week when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, many after seeing videos on Youtube or other social media platforms. He said there’s a sense among members that Alphabet has ample power, but is no longer accountable to what their workers want.
Gainer-Dewar said when it comes to workers rights, one of the main focuses will be the two-tiered system of hiring. He said there are full-time employees with long-term contracts, good pay and benefits, while others work as contractors or through vendor companies – with worse benefits, pay and working conditions – and often do essentially the same work full-time employees do.
“They have these kind of precarious contracts that can be taken away from them at any time, or are just set to terminate on some fixed term right from the beginning,” he said.
The Alphabet Workers Union, which is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America Local 1400, had more than 200 members upon launching last week. It has since grown to more than 600. The Union is open to anyone employed by Alphabet, either directly or through a vendor or short-term contract.