July 28, 2022
Credit: Pawel Czerwinski/Unsplash
Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. It’s me, your friendly neighborhood union reporter. I’ve been writing quite a lot about non-workplacey things lately, but with our editor on vacation, I get a turn on my old stomping ground. Today: a conversation I had with a couple of folks at the Alphabet Workers Union, some tech office musical chairs, and big savings in the Gen Z retirement world.
The Alphabet Workers Union, a group I’ve been following since its launch in January 2021, talked to me this week about some big plans it has for the rest of the year that could ripple across the tech world.
The AWU now has more than 1,100 members, and it has spent quite a bit of time in the last year and a half testing what strategies work and surveying members about priorities. It’s had its ups and downs, but while it’s been chugging along inside of Google, growing quietly, the world around it has become measurably more pro-union.
The private-sector unionization rate in the U.S. has hovered near historic lows for several years (between 6-6.2%), but 2022 could be the year that changes that. As I highlighted in Tuesday’s newsletter, the National Labor Relations Board said in mid-July that the union petition rate for this fiscal year has already surpassed the total for last year’s, despite the fact that we’re only six months in. The unionization efforts are making a splash — think Starbucks, Apple, Amazon, Trader Joe’s, Lululemon, even Medieval Times.
AWU is about to launch a push to formally unionize groups of contract workers across Alphabet. While the company has approximately 170,000 full-time employees (FTEs), it also has an estimated 100,000 or so contractors and temporary vendor workers (TVCs). Many of the union’s members have been focused on the stark divide between the FTEs and TVCs in terms of pay and benefits since the union’s launch. It has become especially apparent over the past year that contract workers have specific, addressable concerns, and that the AWU has the power to help them form unions that can win recognition from the NLRB.
A recent example: The Google Maps contractors in Bothell, Washington, are technically employed by Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. Shelby Hunter, a policy trainer for Cognizant, joined AWU about a year ago after learning about it from a departing colleague.
At first, he couldn’t persuade the others in his office to have any interest. But after Cognizant tried to force a return to office on them with little notice in spring 2022, Hunter — with support from AWU — was able to quickly organize the rest of the office in protest. Suddenly, everyone saw the point of a union:. “We went from only one person being involved to having 70% of the office in support in about eight weeks,” Hunter told me. The petition successfully encouraged Cognizant to postpone return to office for three months. That three-month deadline is now approaching, and the group is planning a renewed opposition.
“Organizing a group of workers around a very specific demand has been very successful,” said Parul Koul, the executive chair of AWU and a Google software engineer. A small group of Google Fiber contractors voted to form a union with AWU’s support in March; contractors for Modis Engineering, who help run Google’s vast data center network, have won concessions from Modis on organizing rights and hazard pay.
“This massive system, there are tens of thousands of workers that are part of it that are all experiencing variations of the same issue. This is really a campaign that is going to be coming out in the next few months, uniting the different workplaces and employers and job roles under that entire system,” Koul said.
Twitter said Wednesday it would be downsizing its office spaces in San Francisco and New York, as well as potentially closing international locations in the Netherlands, Mumbai, Tokyo and Dublin. In San Francisco, part of the change includes dumping a planned move into Oakland, where the company said in 2021 it would take four floors as part of its plans for hybrid work. (Twitter allows permanent remote work for its employees.)
Amazon made a similar announcement earlier in the month when it decided to halt construction on six new office buildings to apparently reevaluate the designs of those spaces for hybrid work needs. Amazon and Meta have both also slowed office expansion plans for New York City.
Unlike the rest of the tech giants, Google appears committed to increasing office spaces and announced yesterday that it has purchased the Thompson Center in Chicago for $105 million and plans to renovate it into a Chicago HQ and office space for Google workers there.
They created Digital People. Now they've made celebrities available as Digital Twins: Soul Machines co-founder and CEO Greg Cross and his co-founder Mark Sagar, Ph.D., FRSNZ are leading their Auckland and San Francisco-based teams to create AI-enabled Digital People to populate the internet, at first, and soon the metaverse.
Anyone else having a bad case of Great Resignation whiplash? It’s hard to keep up with which tech companies are growing, shrinking, floating or sinking. We’re here to help.
↓ Fiverr cut 60 employees, or around 8% of its staff, this week. The freelance platform said it “decided to focus on our core business and improve the expenditure structure.”
↓ Fintech startup InDebted laid off 40 employees earlier this week, representing 17% of its workforce. Founder and CEO Josh Foreman said the company isn’t immune to the “shifting economic environment” despite recently closing a $22.5 million funding round.
↓ Real estate startup McMakler let go of 90 employees. The company reportedly has not renewed contracts with freelance employees and cut its internship program.
↓ Vox Media reportedly laid off 39 employees in recruiting, editorial and sales roles in an attempt to “get ahead of greater uncertainty.” The company is also reducing the pace of hiring but will continue to hire for critical roles. The cuts affect less than 2% of the company’s overall workforce.
For more news on hiring, firing and rewiring, see our tech company tracker.
Gen Z is saving more of its income for retirement compared to older generations, according to a new study from BlackRock.
“Gen Z was raised in households where there was a need to save for retirement … and the message is out there that you’re on your own, that you need to start saving early,” Anne Ackerley, head of BlackRock’s retirement group, told CNBC.
This startup founder explains how he decided not to move away from his original plan.
Police can use surveillance tech again in New Orleans after a nearly two-year ban.
A Bumble co-founder and former Facebook engineering manager think they have the answer to the next phase of social media.
They created Digital People. Now they've made celebrities available as Digital Twins: Soul Machines is at the cutting edge of AGI research with its unique Digital Brain, based on the latest neuroscience and developmental psychology research.
A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.
Employees are overfunctioning and burning out, but there are ways to make that stop. (Business Insider)
Mark Zuckerberg thinks Meta and Apple are in a “deep, philosophical competition” to build the metaverse. (The Verge)
Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Alphabet's current number of full-time employees. This story was updated July 29, 2022.