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Google Workers Speak Out About Why They Formed A Union: “To Protect Ourselves”

Published Tuesday, January 12, 2021
by Bobby Allyn/National Public Radio
Google Workers Speak Out About Why They Formed A Union: “To Protect Ourselves”

(NEW YORK CITY) - After the death of George Floyd, Google Engineer Raksha Muthukumar sent an e-mail to her colleagues.  In it, she pointed to a list of criminal justice reform groups and bail funds for protesters who were seeking contributions.  Soon after, Muthukumar was summoned into a meeting with Google's Human Relations Department.

"I remember that was ‘such a scary experience.’  It was ‘such a mysterious’ HR letter.  And I was texting friends who had been involved with organizing and they were like, 'Oh, this is my experience with HR.  This is what has happened.  Don't forget to take notes on it,'" said Muthukumar, 25, who is based in New York City.

She says she was told that a colleague was offended by her e-mail.

One of the pages she referred to did indeed contain harsh language to describe police.

Still, she never expected the matter to land on the radar of higher ups.

"It just seemed like such a neutral thing, sending a little GoFundMe list," Muthukumar said. "And that ‘got me in trouble.’"

From a stern talking-to from HR to being demoted or forced out after speaking out, stories about bristling tensions between Google Workers and executives have consumed the Tech Giant in recent months.

And it was against this backdrop that Muthukumar and several hundred of her colleagues did something rarely seen in Silicon Valley: they formed a Labor Union.

Called the Alphabet Workers Union, after Google's parent company, it now represents more than 700 Google Employees and contractors with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

Unlike traditional Unions, this group is a so-called "Minority Union" and does not have the power to force the company to collectively bargain over pay and benefits.

But organizers say that is not the point.

This movement, they say, is to examine Google's role in society and help reshape the company's culture.

"The ‘fear of retaliation has always been great and we've seen retaliation, so this is our chance to protect ourselves,’" Muthukumar said.

Already, the Union is exerting its influence.

After Facebook announced it would indefinitely ban Republican President Donald Trump, and Twitter temporarily suspended the President's account for several hours, the Google Union lambasted their bosses for not doing enough.

Google-owned YouTube did remove a video address in which Trump circulates election falsehoods and glorifies the violent rioters who swarmed the Capitol last week.

The actions were "lackluster," the Google Union wrote.

"We warned our executives about this danger, only to be ignored or given token concessions," the Union said. "YouTube will continue to function as a vector for the growth of fascist movements if it persists in prioritizing advertisers while exposing the public."

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