Courtesy of Raksha Mutukumar
After the death of George Floyd, Google engineer Raksha Mutukumar sent an email to colleagues.
In it, she pointed to a list of criminal justice reform groups and funds for protesters seeking contributions. Shortly afterwards, Mutukumar was summoned to a meeting with Google’s human relations department.
“I remember it was such a scary experience. It was such a mysterious letter about human resources. And I was texting friends who were involved in the organization and they were,” oh, that’s my experience with HR. This happens. Don “don’t forget to take notes,” said the 25-year-old Mutukumar, who is based in New York.
She was told that a colleague was offended by her email. One of the pages she refers to does contain crude language to describe the police. Yet she never expected the matter to be on the radar of higher windows.
“It seemed like a neutral thing, sending a small list to GoFundMe,” Mutukumar said. “And that made it difficult for me.”
From stern conversations with HR to downgrading or expulsion after a speech, stories of fierce tension between Google employees and managers have engulfed the technology giant in recent months.
Noah Berger / AP
Against this background, Mutukumar and several hundred of her colleagues did something rare this week in Silicon Valley: they formed a union.
Named Alphabet Workers Union, named after Google’s parent company, it now represents more than 500 Google employees and contractors with Communications support. Workers of America.
Unlike traditional unions, this group is the so-called. “Minority trade union” and does not have the power to force the company to collectively negotiate salaries and benefits. But organizers say that’s not the point. According to them, this movement should explore the role of Google in society and help restructure the company’s culture.
“The fear of revenge has always been great and we have seen revenge, so this is our change to defend ourselves,” Mutukumar said.
The union is already exercising its influence. After Facebook announced an indefinite ban on Trump and Twitter suspended the president, Google’s president discouraged his bosses from not doing enough.
YouTube, owned by Google, has removed a video message in which Trump spread a fraudulent election and glorified the violent rebels who stormed the Capitol. Still, the action was “weak,” Google said.
“We have warned our leaders of this danger only to be ignored or given symbolic concessions,” the union said. “YouTube will continue to function as a vector for the growth of fascist movements if it continues to prioritize advertisers as it exposes its audience.”
Challenging the “enormous power” of Google executives
Last year, organizers said Google employees were meekly working out a way to run the company, with plans set to launch later this year.
But the sudden launch in December of renowned black researcher Timnit Gebru, who leads a team researching the ethics of artificial intelligence technology, hastened the union’s time. Gebru was also a vocal critic of the company’s diversity efforts and the first black woman to be a researcher at Google.
More than 2,600 of Gebru’s former colleagues have signed a public letter condemning the removal of Gebru from Google – which the company is demanding is a resignation. The incident revived workers’ anger against top managers, stressing the need for a way to speak without fear of reprisals, according to union organizers.
“There is a huge amount of power that is concentrated at the executive level,” said Alan Morales, a Google engineer who is now a member of the union. “As a technical officer, it is wise to ask that this work be used for something positive that makes the world a better place.”
The union is a symptom of a major change at Google, where an average salary of about $ 200,000 and other company privileges have kept many employees from publicly criticizing the company.
Virginia Mayo / AP
That began to change in 2018, when 20,000 Google employees around the world staged a rally to protest how the company handled allegations of sexual harassment. Others have recently openly questioned some of Google’s work, such as selling technology to U.S. border agents and the military. And stories of how women and people of color are treated differently in the company have become widespread since Gebru’s dismissal.
All of this, says Chris Banner, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has helped build momentum for Google’s unification.
“This shows that the wider concern about growing income inequality and wealth in our society and unfair work practices is now shared by some of the highest paid employees in the technology industry,” said Chris Banner, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. who has long studied the technology sector. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more than next year in Silicon Valley.”
Former CEO of Google: Union could damage the company’s image
Google officials declined to be interviewed about the union. He issued a statement saying that the company has always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding job and that it will continue to engage directly with all of our employees.
Ross LaGenes, a former CEO of Google, responded to this statement: “It seemed to me an example that they really do not understand it.”
Until 2019, LaJeunesse was the company’s global head of international relations. He says he was forced to leave Google because he raised objections to working with the governments of China and Saudi Arabia, saying such business ventures would make the company “complicit in human rights abuses.”
Google disputes that his dismissal is revengeful, claiming that LaJeunesse lost his job due to reorganizations of the company and not due to his internal resistance.
Whatever the reason, LaJeunesse is a person familiar with thinking about top brass at Google, and said senior management is likely worried that the new alliance will damage Google’s image at a time when public opinion is turning against Big Tech.
“The first thing Google executives will be concerned about is the potential damage to the brand and the PR efforts that the company is constantly making,” he said.
LaJeunesse said the union showed that company executives were not directly involved in growing calls for reform from some of the company’s ranks, and that mistrust between employees and management could harm the company in the long run.
“Indeed, this should be an alarm for investors and the board,” LaJeunesse said. “I think there’s a real risk that this talent will go elsewhere.”