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How Parul Koul and the Alphabet Workers Union created an untraditional union to hold the tech giant accountable

“The only way to protect ourselves is to stand up together.”

How Parul Koul and the Alphabet Workers Union created an untraditional union to hold the tech giant accountable
[Photo:Lauren Luo]
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When she began at Google, in 2019, software engineer Parul Koul was on a one-year contract. She grew concerned that fixed-term contracts, in which a permanent job is contingent on performance, could be disproportionately offered to candidates from underrepresented communities, so she joined a group of organizers at Google who had been pressing the tech giant on issues like diversity, sexual harassment, and the ethical deployment of its technology.

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After that group announced a formal unionization effort in January, open to full-time employees, temps, and contractors across Google and other Alphabet subsidiaries, Koul was elected as the Alphabet Workers Union’s first executive chair. With about 900 members, the AWU represents a fraction of Alphabet’s 135,000 employees, but it leverages social media and petitions to keep the company accountable to its employees, especially the independent contractors and temps who are part of its so-called shadow workforce. “The only way to protect ourselves is to stand up together,” Koul says. The AWU has helped a contractor, suspended after asking about hazard pay, get her job back and aided a successful campaign by interns to win back a relocation bonus nixed because of the pandemic.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable

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