Google workers launch a solidarity union
The Alphabet Workers Union is now open for members to join
(Meta: although this email list and its Substack blog are named "Alphabetworkers", they aren't affiliated with, or run by, the newly-announced Alphabet Workers Union. - Bruce)
Google workers, in coordination with Communications Workers of America, have announced the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union, which is open immediately to join for all U.S. and Canadian Alphabet workers, including temps, vendors, and contractors. News articles about the announcement are sometimes referring to the new organization as a "non-contract union" or a "minority union", but the approach is traditionally known as a solidarity union - an organization which will organize and empower workers, but not necessarily seek to hold a union election under U.S. labor law. The solidarity union approach will allow union members to seek and assert federal legal protection for their organizing efforts under section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, while avoiding the restrictions that traditionally come when a union negotiates a contract under NLRA section 9. The solidarity union approach also allows the union to include workers from Google's complex maze of contractors and subcontractors, bypassing the "separate unions for each employer of record" rule required by U.S. union elections.
The term "solidarity union" likely originated with labor historian Staughton Lynd, who also wrote a book about this organizing approach: Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below is available in its second (2015) edition directly from PM Press -- you can even read it online today, since they offer an ebook version. A supplementary mini-book, Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks, was released in 2011.
The launch of the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) has already produced two information documents, including a FAQ directly from AWU, and a longer ABC's of Google's new union document written by former Kickstarter union organizer Clarissa Redwine.
From AWU's FAQ:
Don’t unions need a contract to be legitimate?
No. Workers keep the company running with our labor everyday, and our power comes from our ability to collectively cease that labor if our employer will not bargain with us—we just have to collectively understand and wield that power. We can make a material difference in our workplace and show solidarity with one another. It comes down to showing up for each other, talking about our problems, and learning how to act in concert. [...]
And from Clarissa Redwine's info document:
"... even without formal recognition from an outside entity, there is no legal roadblock holding back a group of workers from being a powerful collective that functions as a union. Non-contract unions embody the idea that worker power does not come from legal processes, but rather through building power through solidarity..."
Over the next few days I might offer some additional thoughts on the very positive impacts of this union's formation, but for the moment I'll just provide the usual informational URLs and some news article extracts.
The official launch announcement and press release:
New York Times article extracts:
Hundreds of Google Employees Unionize, Culminating Years of Activism
OAKLAND, Calif. — More than 225 Google engineers and other workers have formed a union, the group revealed on Monday, capping years of growing activism at one of the world’s largest companies and presenting a rare beachhead for labor organizers...
The new union, called the Alphabet Workers Union after Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was organized in secret for the better part of a year and elected its leadership last month. The group is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America...
But unlike a traditional union, which demands that an employer come to the bargaining table to agree on a contract, the Alphabet Workers Union is a so-called minority union that represents a fraction of the company’s more than 260,000 full-time employees and contractors...
The Alphabet Workers Union, which represents employees in Silicon Valley and cities like Cambridge, Mass., and Seattle, gives protection and resources to workers who join. Those who opt to become members will contribute 1 percent of their total compensation to the union to fund its efforts...
Traditional unions typically enroll a majority of a work force and petition a state or federal labor board like the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election. If they win the vote, they can bargain with their employer on a contract. A minority union allows employees to organize without first winning a formal vote before the N.L.R.B...
Although they will not be able to negotiate a contract, the Alphabet Workers Union can use other tactics to pressure Google into changing its policies, labor experts said. Minority unions often turn to public pressure campaigns and lobby legislative or regulatory bodies to influence employers...
The New York Times also granted op-ed space to AWU's executive chair Parul Koul and vice-chair Chewy Shaw:
We Built Google. This Is Not the Company We Want to Work For.
... For far too long, thousands of us at Google — and other subsidiaries of Alphabet, Google’s parent company — have had our workplace concerns dismissed by executives. Our bosses have collaborated with repressive governments around the world. They have developed artificial intelligence technology for use by the Department of Defense and profited from ads by a hate group. They have failed to make the changes necessary to meaningfully address our retention issues with people of color…
We are the workers who built Alphabet. We write code, clean offices, serve food, drive buses, test self-driving cars and do everything needed to keep this behemoth running. We joined Alphabet because we wanted to build technology that improves the world. Yet time and again, company leaders have put profits ahead of our concerns. We are joining together — temps, vendors, contractors, and full-time employees — to create a unified worker voice. We want Alphabet to be a company where workers have a meaningful say in decisions that affect us and the societies we live in...
Congratulations to everyone at AWU who worked on today's successful union launch, and let's wish the Alphabet Workers Union success in all of its future efforts!
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