Google workers plan to unionise against pay disparity, bias

(IANS) In a bid to tackle issues like pay disparity, retaliation and controversial government contracts, Google workers have announced plans to unionise with the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the media reported on Monday.

The Alphabet Workers’ Union will be open to all employees and contractors at Google’s parent company, reports The Verge.

“This union builds upon years of courageous organising by Google workers,” said Nicki Anselmo, a Google programme manager.

“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively,” Anselmo was quoted as saying.

Project Maven, now shelved, was a project that involved the US department of Defense and used artificial intelligence in tasks such as analyzing drone footage.

Google faced backlash from employees over its involvement in Maven. The decision not to renew the contract in 2018 came after about 4,000 employees signed a petition demanding “a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”

Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai last month apologised for the departure of top AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru and said he would probe the events that led to her leaving Google.

Pichai, however, did not touch upon why was she fired as alleged by Gebru on social media.

Famous for her work on algorithmic bias, particularly in facial recognition technology, Gebru who was the technical co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team took to Twitter to explain why she has been fired.

Supporting Gebru, the Google Walkout for Change group had posted from its Twitter account: “Dr Gebru is a pathbreaking scientist doing some of the most important work to ensure just and accountable AI and to create a welcoming and diverse AI research field”.

Internal activism within Google increased after reports of the company offering multimillion-dollar severance packages to employees accused of engaging in inappropriate sexual relationships.

At one point, about 20,000 employees staged a walkout. Many employees later alleged that Google resorted to retaliation against those who reported workplace issues.

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