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Contractors and employees working at Google and other Alphabet-owned companies have banded together to form the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU). More than 50 Google contract employees voted to unionize last year in Pittsburgh, but the AWU now includes more than 200 dues-paying Google employees or contractors, and organizers say it is the first union open to all Alphabet employees in company history. The AWU is launching with support from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and its Coalition to Organize Digital Employees (CODE) initiative, according to a statement organizers shared with VentureBeat.
Among guiding principles listed on the AWU website are social and economic justice and the prioritization of “society and the environment instead of maximizing profits at all costs. We can make money without doing evil.”
“We want AWU to be able to thoughtfully guide the direction of Alphabet,” reads another section on the AWU website.
Google software engineers Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw will act as AWU executive chair and vice-chair, respectively. In a New York Times op-ed today, union organizers said more than 200 workers have joined and that members feel responsible for the technology they bring into the world and care deeply about how technology like AI is used.
“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,” the op-ed reads. “Our bosses have collaborated with repressive governments around the world. They have developed artificial intelligence technology for use by the Department of Defense and profited from ads by a hate group. They have failed to make the changes necessary to meaningfully address our retention issues with people of color.”
Since 2018, Google employees have taken part in a number of collective actions aimed at reforming company practices. Thousands of employees publicly opposed Google’s role in the U.S. military’s Project Maven AI initiative, and 20,000 employees from Google offices worldwide took part in a walkout to oppose Maven, a $90 million payment to Andy Rubin despite sexual misconduct charges against him, and treatment of contract employees.
But last month Google faced charges from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for allegedly spying on contract employees and retaliating against those who attempted to unionize.
“Most recently, the company fired Dr. Timnit Gebru, a leading artificial intelligence researcher, for no reason whatsoever. The firing has caused outrage from thousands of us, including Black and Brown workers who are heartbroken by the company’s actions and unsure of their future at Google,” reads a statement organizers provided to VentureBeat and published on the AWU website.
More than 2,600 Googlers recently signed a letter published by Google Walkout for Real Change that called Gebru’s firing an act of retaliation. In the letter, employees demanded a number of actions, including a public account of what happened with Gebru, saying this was necessary to establish trust in Google Research in the future.
At an AI research workshop last month, less than two weeks after Google fired her, Gebru spoke in favor of forming a union. She called it a way to protect AI researchers from retaliation, saying “I think some sort of union has to happen, and I do believe there is a lot of hope.”
The union began to form following a 2018 walkout and conversations with the CWA that started in January 2020. The Alphabet Workers Union is currently limited to workers in the United States and Canada and collects 1% of members’ total compensation to create a strike fund, as well as legal, training, and other support, the group said on its website.
Update 8:47 a.m. to include additional details from the Alphabet Workers Union website.
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