Google management unsuccessfully tried to shut down an employee-led talk on unionization at its Zurich office last week. Dozens of full-time Google employees met in defiance of their employer’s attempt to cancel the meeting. Google continues to struggle with employee discontent over workplace issues on a variety of topics, including labor organizing.
- Why have tech workers historically been reluctant to unionize?
- How has the surge of tech activism created a sense of solidarity among workers?
- How would you engage tech workers who want to unionize? What actions would potentially stall unionizing effort?
- Last year, more laborers were involved in work stoppages than any year since the mid-1980s. Through the middle of this year, that trend continued.
- Public opinion on organized labor has improved alongside the tightening in the job market. Gallup’s annual survey of confidence in institutions shows that organized labor’s net approval is at its highest level in 15 years.
- In September, a group of Google contractors employed by HCL, a third-party vendor, voted to organize with the United Steelworkers.
The talk titled, “Unions in Switzerland,” was led by two representatives from a Swiss media and telecoms union called syndicom and organized by Google employees. Last week, Google’s site leadership team attempted to stop the event by sending out an email announcing that it would be canceled, according to an email reviewed by Recode. In the email, Google said it was canceling the meeting because the company prefers to only host events on the topic organized in partnership with Google’s site leadership team.
Instead, Google leadership wrote that it would host its own talks about labor laws and employee rights that bring “a diverse set of presenters and perspectives.” That upset many Google employees both inside and outside the Zurich office, who told Recode the company has been trying to block employees from hearing information about workplace organizing.
Historically, full-time white-collar workers at major tech companies like Google have not unionized or even openly discuss unionization. But attitudes have been shifting as a growing group of tech workers at Google, and other companies, have become more vocal about demanding greater labor rights and input on important company decisions.
The tight labor market in the U.S. is leading to a shift in the balance of power between labor and capital, giving more leverage to workers. For example, workers are less reluctant to leave their jobs in search of better pay or working conditions with the rate of workers quitting their jobs at the highest level since 2001. It’s also giving unions the confidence to go on strike, hoping to get a better deal as with the United Auto Workers in its negotiations with General Motors.
As long as tight labor markets persist, work stoppages and pockets of labor shortages are likely to continue. The rationale for unions has inceased.