The Google logo outside if its New York City offices, which were closed on May 19, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Alphabet employees have long clashed with the company’s executives and pushed for change, and its mobilizing efforts, while large, are usually short-lived. Now, Alphabet’s Workers Union is hoping it can be a catalyst for change and create long-lasting effects.
“Our hope is that through a union and through the structure and resources that will be able to provide us, and the skills that really hundreds of years worth of labor organizing has generated, will give us a way to keep this fight up for years to come and fight more sustainably and really win even bigger demands,” said Parul Koul, AWU’s executive chair and a Google software engineer, in a “Squawk Alley” interview.
The union, supported by the Communications Workers of America, was announced Monday after years of long-standing tension between executives and employees and contractors of all ranks.
In 2018, Google employees wrote a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai asking him to end a partnership between Google and the Pentagon. Later that year, employees around the world staged a walkout to protest the company’s handling of executives accused of sexual misconduct, including a $90 million exit package for former Android lead Andy Rubin.
Protests were also held in 2019 to support two employees who were being investigated about their retaliation claims. Most recently, employees created a petition to support departed AI researcher Timnit Gebru, who said she was fired over a research paper dispute.
“There are all of these other examples of workers coming together and really successfully mobilizing tens of thousands of people and demanding change,” Koul said. “One of the trends that we do see is that these mobilizations depend on these moments, these singular, spontaneous moments where workers are able to come together. And sustaining that kind of energy in the long term has been really difficult. The walkout, for example, made six really broad demands and only one of them has been really realized so far.”
The union has just a fraction of employee support so far, with 226 people signed as of Monday morning, but it could quickly grow. In total, Alphabet has more than 130,000 employees worldwide. The union will be open to all employees and contractors, regardless or role or classification, with the intent to take on issues such as compensation and work transparency.
“The union is meant to be a democratic and open organization,” Koul said. “This is an organization for all workers.”
She added that the group is still in the early stages and is hoping Alphabet executives will be “able to engage” in “good faith.”
Kara Silverstein, Alphabet’s director of people operations, told CNBC earlier Monday: “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
— CNBC’s Todd Haselton contributed to this report.