In struggle with management, employees create a union at Google

In struggle with management, employees create a union at Google

Violet Field inHigh TechJan 5, 2021 3 min read10 views

In addition to wage and working conditions issues, the union will also address the broader role of technology in society.

The Google logo in California. - Jeff Chiu / AP / SIPA

It's a small revolution in the world of tech giants. Google employees announced Monday the creation of a union, after differences with their leaders which crystallized around the dismissal, in December, of a black researcher working on ethical questions related to artificial intelligence.

This decision symbolizes the activism of Silicon Valley employees against their companies, whose weight in daily life has increased considerably with the restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic. The union, which will be one of the very first in a tech flagship, will not only deal with issues of wages and working conditions but also the broader role of technology in society.

"Not to be the craftsman of Evil"

“We hope to create a democratic process for employees so that they can exercise their power, promote social, economic and environmental justice; and end unjust disparities ”between temporary workers and full-time workers, explain two of the founders Parul Koul and Chewy Shaw. In a column published in the New York Times, they ensure that ethical questions, and in particular artificial intelligence, will be on their agenda. “The motto of the company was 'Do not be the artisan of evil',” they write. "We want to follow this motto".

Silicon Valley had so far managed to avoid the creation of unions by offering generous salaries but has recently been faced with employee activism reinvigorated by the outbreak of movements calling for more social and racial justice. At Amazon, for example, employees are trying to draw attention to the working conditions and safety of warehouse workers.

The initiative may not see the light of day

Besides Google, employees of Alphabet, which heads several entities including YouTube, and employs more than 130,000 people around the world, can join the union. Around 226 employees have already indicated their intention to do so, according to the founders, but there is still a long way to go to become a social partner with the right to negotiate wage agreements. The new union must indeed obtain the organization of a vote by the authorities. To achieve this, 30% of eligible employees must already indicate that they are interested in such an initiative, which is far from guaranteed.

In addition to the cost of this procedure, companies often have recourse to large law firms to torpedo such attempts. "This puts a lot of pressure on the founders, who run the risk of being made redundant or subject to harassment," warns Art Wheaton, professor of social issues at Cornell University, adding however that this first at Google will be observed closely because it could stain oil if successful.