Alphabet workers have a long history of organizing at the company, learning many lessons along the way and winning critical campaigns.
A Powerful History of Organizing
While Alphabet claimed to have an open dialogue with workers, the truth was organizers faced retaliation and many worker demands were ignored. In 2020 workers reached out to Communications Workers of America to learn how to grow worker power at the company through unionizing.
From the start, Alphabet has had a culture of workers speaking up when the company made mistakes. The unionization effort at Alphabet grew out of a long history of organizing from the earliest days of Google, in which workers pointed out ways the company could do a better job or wasn’t living up to its values.
There are far too many worker-led organizing campaigns that proceeded AWU-CWA to capture here, but this page attempts to highlight some of the worker organizing history that informs our work today.
Real Names Only Policy
The Google+ “real names only” policy was harmful to the security, privacy, and physical safety of our users. The people working on the launch flagged the problem, but executives pushed ahead. Pressure grew steadily over three years, with combined internal and external campaigns eventually leading to the complete removal of the Real Names policy.
Workers started a spreadsheet sharing their compensation, giving each other more leverage to negotiate and revealing gender and racial bias in pay.
Against the Business of War
Alphabet bid on Department of Defense (DOD) contracts that included having workers develop AI intended to be used for war. Thousands of workers petitioned Alphabet to commit to never building technology for warfare. The campaign succeeded in pressuring Alphabet not to renew a DoD contract, and to adopt AI Principles that make it harder for Alphabet to build harmful technology.
Project Dragonfly was a censored search engine for the Chinese market. Google had ended its Chinese search service in 2010 over censorship concerns, but the company was tempted back into the market by the potential of search ad revenues. Criticism from Alphabet workers and human rights organizations led to the cancellation of the project.
Stopping Sexual Harassment
An executive was accused of sexually harassing a woman who worked for him. Instead of firing him, Alphabet gave him a $90 million exit package. The international Walkout for Real Change and sustained internal and external organizing pressure led the company to make concessions on one of the Walkout demands, and commit to better handling of sexual harassment cases. Executives have blocked the remaining four demands and retaliated against organizers.
Protecting LGBTQIA+ People
Alphabet’s products have a long history of discriminating against LGBTQIA+ users and content. Internal advocacy and external pressure led to some improvements, but failures like YouTube’s tolerance of hate speech from large content creators and systematic demonetization of videos that used LGBTQIA+ vocabulary continued. YouTube committed to address the issues, and sustained employee and external pressure remains.
Fair Treatment for Contractors
Almost a hundred contractors on the Google Shopping team in Pittsburgh, employed by HCL, successfully unionized with the United Steelworkers. Alphabet workers across sites organized a solidarity petition, and Alphabet remained neutral in the discussions. Since then, the NLRB has filed charges against HCL for failing to bargain in good faith with the union.
No Police Contracts
As protests against police violence swept the country, over a thousand Alphabet workers petitioned for the company to stop selling technology to police departments, including ending existing contracts with police departments that had been sued for racial bias. Alphabet ignored the concerns, claiming that the work was in line with AI principles.
Meeting with CWA Representatives
Alphabet workers met with Communications Workers of America representatives to discuss organizing a union and make plans for the future.
Formation of AWU-CWA
On January 4th, 2021 the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA launched publicly and continues to organize Alphabet workers throughout the United States of America and Canada.