February 04, 2021
This week’s international launch of “Alpha Global” – a global alliance of Alphabet employee unions – stumbled after incorrectly listing US-based “Alphabet Workers Union” as a signatory. The subsequently issued retraction and resulting confusion underscore the difficulties for companies which work with non-traditional “unions” which utilize public pressure and employee voice campaigns outside of established legal and regulatory frameworks.
The lack of formality and governance in this situation created an embarrasment for the newly formed “Alpha Global” alliance of Alphabet employee unions. However, this same lack of formality is what gives these alliances many of their advantages and can present a significant challenge to global employers confronted with similar efforts.
US, Global Efforts by Alphabet Employees Seek to Unite “Employee Voice”. Since the beginning of the year, Google employees based in the U.S. established a “minority union” – the “Alphabet Workers Union (AWU)”, which cannot engage in collective bargaining and has not been recognized by the NLRB. However, the arrangement allows the AWU to include Google independent contractors (a significant labor force for the company) and, at least from a public and media perspective, brand themselves as representing the employee population.
Alpha Global Alliance provides a similar structure, consisting of about a dozen unions from 10 countries. And while the alliance does not provide collective bargaining abilities in any one country, its partnership the UNI Global Union aims to influence employment conditions internationally at Alphabet through mainly media and employee voice campaigns like the recent “Make Amazon Pay” global campaign.
Global Employee Voice Campaigns – Considerations for Global Employers: Employee voice campaigns present a significantly different challenge for global employers than traditional union efforts in the US and other world power economies. These campaigns all present very different strengths and weaknesses for those pursuing them.
HR Policy Global Takeaway: Global “Alliances” of Unions represent a recent and continually emerging trend of non-traditional unionism which relies primarily on “employee voice” and social media. Companies, however, can manage risk more effectively by engaging with employees on the local level to identify and address issues to avoid them becoming social media problems.