In November 2019, over 2300 cafeteria workers employed at dozens of Google campuses in the Bay Area, California – including the tech giant’s main headquarters – voted to unionize.
This is an important step forward for all workers in the tech sector. A sector that has become notorious for its hostility to trade unions.
These precarious workers – like half of all Google workers – are not employed directly by the tech giant but instead hired through a third party contractor. In this case the multinational food service firm, Compass Group. These workers do not receive the same conditions and benefits as in-house staff. They have no pension plans and subject to forced arbitration.
Living conditions for many of the blue-collar workers in Silicon Valley have worsened dramatically as the profits of the companies they work for continue to grow. From 1997 to 2017, all but the top 10% of income earners have seen their wages decline in an area with the highest cost of living in the United States.
With the average rent for an apartment at $2900 per month, an unofficial camp of mobile vans has been built outside of Google’s main headquarters where many of the workers are forced to live.
In November 2018, Google was rocked by the participation of 20,000 workers in a global walkout as workers fought back against a culture of sexual harassment, retribution for HR complaints and unequal pay based on race and gender.
In September, workers in Pittsburgh voted to form the first white-collar-led union at the company and the following month, Google unsuccessfully attempted to sabotage a union organising meeting in Zurich, Switzerland – the company’s largest office in mainland Europe.
Well known union-busting firm IRI Consultants have since been hired by Google management as they try to clamp down on workers and getting organised. This has led to a controversial new browser which monitors the calendar activity of Google employees when booking rooms.
Since then, five workers have been fired for their role in workplace organising. Four of the five were fired on the November 25 just five days after the vote to affiliate to the union Unite Here, while the fifth was suspended on that day but not fired until December 13.
The need for workers to organise is clear and the growing conflict within Google could soon be reflected across the sector. The trade union movement must actively seek to assist and organise workers in the multinational sectors, many of whom face the precarity and low pay that’s woven into the fabric of modern capitalism.
By Thomas White