The union is likely to ratchet up tensions between Google engineers, who work on autonomous cars, artificial intelligence and internet search, and the company’s management. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, and other executives have tried to come to grips with an increasingly activist work force — but have made missteps.
Last month, federal officials said Google had likely wrongly fired two employees who protested its work with immigration authorities in 2019. Timnit Gebru, a Black woman who is a respected artificial intelligence researcher, also said last month that Google fired her after she criticized the company’s approach to minority hiring and the biases built into A.I. systems. Her departure set off a storm of criticism about Google’s treatment of minority employees.
“These companies find it a bone in their throat to even have a small group of people who say, ‘We work at Google and have another point of view,’” said Nelson Lichtenstein, the director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Google might well succeed in decimating any organization that comes to the floor.”
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.
Over the past year, the C.W.A. has pushed to unionize white-collar tech workers. (The NewsGuild, a union that represents New York Times employees, is part of C.W.A.) The drive focused initially on employees at video game companies, who often work grueling hours and face layoffs.
In late 2019, C.W.A. organizers began meeting with Google employees to discuss a union drive, workers who attended the meetings said. Some employees were receptive and signed cards to officially join the union last summer. In December, the Alphabet Workers Union held elections to select a seven-person executive council.