The union is likely to exacerbate tensions between Google engineers working on autonomous cars, artificial intelligence and internet search and the company’s management. Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, and other executives have tried to confront an increasingly activist workforce – but have made missteps.
Last month, federal officials said Google most likely unfairly fired two employees who protested their work with immigration services in 2019. Timnit Gebru, a black woman who is a respected artificial intelligence researcher, also said last month Google fired her after criticizing the company’s approach to minority recruitment and the prejudices built into AI systems. Her departure sparked a storm of criticism of Google’s treatment of minority workers.
“These companies find it very difficult to have a small group of people who say,” We work at Google and we have a different point of view, “said Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for Labor Studies. Work and Democracy at the University of California in Santa Barbara. “Google could well manage to decimate any company that has their say.”
The Alphabet Workers Union, which represents workers in Silicon Valley and cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Seattle, provides protection and resources to workers who join. Those who choose to join will contribute 1 percent of their total compensation to the union to fund their efforts.
Over the past year, the CWA has promoted union work among technology workers. (The NewsGuild, a union representing the New York Times, is part of the CWA.) The campaign initially focused on video game company employees, who often work long hours and face layoffs.
In late 2019, CWA organizers began meeting with Google employees to discuss a union action. Some employees were receptive and signed cards to officially join the union last summer. In December, the Alphabet Workers Union held elections to select a seven-member executive council.