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Google employees form union to fight for better wages, conditions

| Jan 7, 2021 | Labor Law

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has been under pressure recently by employee groups. These activists have complained about a number of important employment and business issues, including workplace investigations, allegedly unethical business practices and alleged union busting activities.

In December, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against Google, saying that it had unlawfully monitored and questioned workers, then fired them in retaliation for attempting to organize a union. Google denies that it acted improperly.

Now, a group of over 200 Google and other Alphabet Inc. workers in the U.S. and Canada have voted to form a union. This is a minority union, which only represents its specific members, as opposed to the majority of all workers at the company.

The Alphabet Workers Union, as it is called, will be part of the Communications Workers of America. Members will pay dues equal to 1% of their compensation. The group also plans to represent third-party contractors who work with Alphabet Inc.

The union will use the money to keep pressure on Alphabet in areas like business practices and working conditions. However, because it doesn’t represent the majority of employees, it can’t force Alphabet Inc. to the bargaining table. Alphabet Inc has the right to ignore the union’s demands.

The leaders of the union acknowledged to Reuters that they won’t have majority support from employees anytime soon. The tech industry may be known for “bro culture,” racism and misogyny, but the jobs tend to pay well and come with many perks.

Can a minority union work?

Although it may not have the power of a union representing the majority of workers, a minority union can have influence.

Small organizations within Alphabet Inc have already had some effect on policy. For example, Google has introduced some new policies on how workplace investigations will be handled. And, Google agreed to stop working on a military drone software project that many employees opposed.

That was before the minority union vote. The union plans to hire staff and pressure Alphabet Inc. even more aggressively in the future. Its new funding and structure will make it easier to claim legitimacy and influence.

One labor historian at Georgetown University told Reuters that non-traditional organizations like minority unions have been successful at pressing for change for over a century.

The union’s vice chair also pointed to small groups, including public school teachers and university faculty and staff, as having been successful.

A Google spokesperson said that the company supports the workers’ “protected labor rights” and plans to continue to engage directly with them.