Google employees form a union to fight for change Alphabet's ways

nanoguy

Posts: 658   +11
Staff member
A hot potato: For years, Google's internal conflicts with employees have been erupting to the public sphere with no apparent policy changes regarding pay, ethics, inclusion, and protection from harassment. Now those employees are forming a union to fight for those changes from the inside, a highly unusual move for workers in the tech industry.

Last December, Google fired AI researcher Timnit Gebru after she tried to be outspoken about unethical AI, which elevated public criticism of the company as well as internal dissent. Today, more than 225 Google employees announced they've created a union, which is a first for parent company Alphabet and a historic event for Silicon Valley.

The reveal came through a New York Times op-ed that tries to explain how a more organized workforce will help course-correct Google from within, after years of failing to do so through public pressure. After all, the company's previous motto used to be "Don't Be Evil" before it was changed to "Do The Right Thing" in 2015, and many Google employees increasingly feel like it's been the opposite -- a pursuit of higher profits for executives and investors in disregard of worker rights and the public good.

The newly formed union's leaders mention several instances in the last few years where Google employees tried banding together to protest questionable choices made by Google executives.

For instance, in 2018 thousands of Google employees expressed their distaste to the public discovery of a partnership with the Pentagon to develop drone footage-analyzing AI. The company responded by developing a set of ethical guidelines for military partnerships, but that wasn't enough to prevent several employees from leaving the company.

Later that year it was revealed that Google had protected 'Father of Android' Andy Rubin from allegations of sexual misconduct and had chosen to mask the scandal through an exit deal that involved a $90 million bonus. This was followed by a protest from 20,000 Googlers as well as a series of lawsuits from shareholders who found that other executives were similarly compensated as much as $240 million to leave after being accused of sexual misconduct. The sudden departure of Timnit Gebru for being critical of existing diversity and inclusion efforts was the last straw for some.

As of writing, Google parent Alphabet has 130,000 employees that work under various contractual terms, including temporary and part-time workers. According to a joint statement from the Communications Workers of America and the newly formed Alphabet Workers Union, all are eligible to become members of the AWU, as it is meant to be "a democratic and open organization."

Kara Silverstein, who directs Alphabet's people operations, said in a statement that "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."

That will remain to be seen as Google isn't exactly known for taking kindly to workers attempting to unionize. Back in December, the National Labor Relations Board filed a formal complaint against Google for several violations of the National Labor Relations Act, from surveilling employees to firing them as a way to discourage others from engaging in union activities.

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brucek

Posts: 651   +833
TechSpot Elite
Not sympathetic to why a highly employable Google engineer should have any more say over how Google conducts itself than its customers and shareholders, who collectively provide the now (cumulative) trillions of dollars that have built it up to what it is.

If you disagree with Google's mission, take any of the many, many other jobs available to you, or start your own company pursuing your own mission (not an idle threat, there are a great many startups founded by Google alumni.) But please don't feel you're entitled to push your political or social agenda on the rest of us because you are one of Google's 100,000+ employees.

(This is not a comment aimed at say the least advantaged, bottom tier workers trying to protect say their basic workplace safety, which has been an important function of unions, but I do not think applies at all to Google.)
 

bviktor

Posts: 315   +575
1) "Don't be evil" hasn't been a motto for a decade or so. For a reason. They're THE d*ck company and have been for a while now. They're pretty much the new Microsoft.

2) If you don't like the workplace, go work for another company. It's really that simple. Much like the consumer votes with her wallet. You don't like the product? Then you don't start petitions and campaigns, you just simply don't buy it.
 

toooooot

Posts: 1,366   +653
Unions are there to save people from the greedy company owners who wanna pay as little as possible, while sucking as much from their employees as possible.
Unfortunately, unions also can become fat and greedy. And then they fall on the companies and crash them with their weight.
Balance, balance is the most important thing in the world where unions exist.
Google however, I think it is long gone from not being evil. They should have been investigated years ago regarding censorships, shady practices and so on...
 

Axle Grease

Posts: 170   +87
"The sudden departure of Timnit Gebru for being critical of existing diversity and inclusion efforts was the last straw for some."

Their kind of inclusion and diversity only exists within a narrowly bounded framework of leftist thought and would be the first to demand Google oust an employee for making known thoughts they disagreed with.
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 7,812   +6,459
The initial union is well founded and can be beneficial for both the employee as well as the company, but only if the union does not stoop to it's own internal strive and greedy conduct. Keep out the bigger unions, stand on your own, and stick to your principles and you will be respected. Bow to the will of the "bosses" and you will be equally hated as the very company you are unionizing against .....
 

scavengerspc

Posts: 840   +689
TechSpot Elite
The tech sector and how they do business and treat their own people is so separated from a large segment of America.

If anyone on my staff had a grievance and didn't tell me that would piss me off.
 
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toooooot

Posts: 1,366   +653
"The sudden departure of Timnit Gebru for being critical of existing diversity and inclusion efforts was the last straw for some."

Their kind of inclusion and diversity only exists within a narrowly bounded framework of leftist thought and would be the first to demand Google oust an employee for making known thoughts they disagreed with.
I don't think diversity itself ever created problems for any company. It is when they hire a random unqualified person that fits the gender/race requirement which is not right. Such practice is a horrible decision creates an illusion all minorities are unable to perform as our majority.
It is sad and wrong to do.
 
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stewi0001

Posts: 2,506   +2,042
TechSpot Elite
I wonder if the real problem is actually Alphabet. In other words, did Google start to really go down hill after Alphabet acquired them? Just a thought.
 

AMN3S1AC

Posts: 34   +17
I wonder if the real problem is actually Alphabet. In other words, did Google start to really go down hill after Alphabet acquired them? Just a thought.
Didn't Google form Alphabet as a parent company, as a way to bring all their other businesses under an umbrella that wasn't Google?
 
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