January 15, 2021
A group of more than 200 Google employees made waves throughout Silicon Valley on January 4, when they announced the formation of the first union at Google — the largest organizing effort of white-collar workers at any major tech company in history.
The Alphabet Workers Union — open to all employees and contractors — aims to guarantee equitable salaries, and protection from retaliation, discrimination, and anti-organizing activities that it alleges Google has practiced in recent years. It also wants to give employees a formal voice to object to projects and contracts that Google takes on, like Project Maven, a contract with the Pentagon for artificial intelligence software — after employees objected, Google abandoned the project.
While the Alphabet Workers Union has signed up more than 700 employees to its ranks since the announcement, it still faces an uphill battle in organizing a global workforce amidst a pandemic. It has to educate employees about how unions operate remotely, for example, or that AWU dues are 1% of an employee’s salary, collected monthly. It also faces headwinds: unions are rare in white-collar professions, such as tech. In the United States, only 6.2% of workers in the private sector are unionized, compared to 33.6% of employees working in the public sector. Unions within tech companies are even rarer, still — in early 2020, employees at Kickstarter formed a dedicated tech workers union, with employees at Glitch following soon thereafter.