Google Fiber workers successfully unionize in Kansas City

The vote swung nine to one in favor, mirroring a card-signing supermajority.

The roof of a Google fiber instillation truck is pictured Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake (Mike Blake / Reuters)

In a tally with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this afternoon, Google Fiber customer service workers — employed by staffing agency BDS Connected Solutions, which is subcontracted by Alphabet — voted nine to one to form a union. They'll be represented by the Alphabet Workers Union, an arm of the Communications Workers of America (AWU-CWA).

Workers at the store, which operates out of Kansas City, Missouri, told Engadget back in January that they were feeling left out of important workplace conversations, especially around safety and staffing. Kansas City was the market where Google Fiber first launched, approximately a decade ago. Workers at this store skipped straight to petitioning the NLRB for union recognition because, for reasons unknown, the supermajority of union card-signers were seemingly ignored by Google and BDS alike. At the time Emrys Adair, a worker at this location said, "There's been no acknowledgement, no pushback. No response at all yet." Since then neither company responded to Engadget's requests for comment.

Among the ballots cast, nine were in favor while one was opposed; an additional ballot was challenged, but the number of challenged ballots was not sufficient to change the result of the election.

“Our campaign faced many efforts to discourage us from exercising our right to a collective voice on the job. Yet it was always clear to all of us that together we can positively shape our working conditions to ensure we all have access to the quality pay, benefits and protections we have earned," Eris Derickson, one of the retail associate at this location, told press in a statement today. "We all enjoy our work with Google Fiber and look forward to sitting at the negotiating table with BDS Connected Solution to set a new standard for our workplace to improve both worker, customer and company experience.”

The Alphabet Workers Union sees this not only as a victory for this specific store, but part of a broader campaign to level the playing field between Alphabet's full-time staff, and its larger and reportedly worse-compensated TVCs (temps, vendors and contractors, in Google parlance.) “Since our founding we have been committed to tackling Alphabet’s segregative, two-tiered employment system. Alphabet wants to maintain its reputation for treating its workers well but doesn't want to pay for it. Instead, the trillion dollar corporation relies on temporary, contract and vendor workers to provide essential work for the company without the same pay, benefits or rights as full time employees," Andrew Gainer-Dewar, a Google software engineer with AWU-CWA wrote in a statement today.

What remains next is for these Google Fiber workers to bargain their first contract, itself a herculean effort that companies have tremendous power to draw out or undermine. Thus far, the specific changes these workers hope to win in bargaining have not been disclosed by the AWU-CWA, though keeping those goals close to the chest is by no means unusual.

Earlier this year, document discovery by the NLRB revealed the existence of an internal Google initiative called "Project Vivian." As reported by Wired, the program was meant "to dissuade employees from unionizing after worker activism began heating up in late 2018"; and as it was put in the in documents themselves by Michael Pfyl, the company's director of employment law, Project Vivian was intended “to engage employees more positively and convince them that unions suck.”

Initially, workers had applied to have Alphabet and BDS considered joint employers in their unionization application. Hoping to avoid legal headaches and in the interest of an expedient vote, however, Alphabet were eventually dropped.

“We have many contracts with both unionized and non-union suppliers, and respect their employees' right to choose whether or not to join a union," a Google spokesperson told Engadget. "The decision of these contractors to join the Communications Workers of America is a matter between the workers and their employer, BDS Solutions Group."

Correction: an earlier version of this story listed Alphabet as a joint employer. While initially filed as such with the NLRB, those terms changed over the past two months and we've updated to reflect that.