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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With Monday's announcement that some Google employees have formed the Alphabet Workers Union, the tech industry is getting its own innovative take on labor organizing.

What's happening: On the one hand, this isn't a traditional union — it won't be able to collectively bargain or formally represent the workforce. At the same time, the new "minority union" offers a fresh approach to solidarity: It's open to some managers and can represent temporary and contract workers.

The big picture: Google has faced a rising tide of dissent in recent years, as employees have staged walkouts and spoken out on everything from sexual harassment to the company's work for the military to the recent ouster of prominent AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru.

  • A small group of Google employees organized in secret for much of last year before yesterday's unveiling. The Alphabet Workers Union (named for Google's parent company) is under the auspices of the Communication Workers of America.

What "minority unions" can do:

  • Collect dues (in this case 1 percent of an employee's cash and stock compensation), elect officers and hire paid staff.
  • Publicly lobby for workers' goals.
  • Include workers from across the country and across job types, including workers and managers, full-time employees and contractors.

What they can't do:

  • Bargain collectively for a contract.
  • Officially represent Google's workforce.

Between the lines: The "minority union" approach offers some measure of structure to spontaneous worker activism at Google.

  • It could become a model for union pushes at other big tech companies where the traditional route toward a union — elections under National Labor Relations Board auspices requiring a majority of employees to vote "yes" — is unlikely to succeed.

Catch up quick: None of the big tech companies are fully unionized, though some isolated pockets of support workers and contract employees have voted to join unions, as have employees at some smaller companies, such as Kickstarter and Glitch.

  • Google has seen some union pushes at the margins, largely from its contract workforce, including efforts by security guards and cafeteria workers.
  • The minority unions approach has been used in other contexts where full workforce unionization seems unlikely, including among state workers in Texas and campus workers in several southern U.S. states.

Of note: Tech workers, for the most part, are paid more than those in other industries and don't face the kind of physically hazardous conditions that have often driven labor organizing in the past.

  • The discontents Google union organizers are expressing have more to do with what they see as a gap between the company's ideals and some of its actions.

What they're saying:

  • Auni Ahsan, Google Cloud engineer and at-large member of the union's executive council (to Axios): "I really, truly think we are taking our struggle and bringing it together with the broader working class struggle in America and around the world. I think that’s what's going to be needed to address the issues facing the world."
  • Google (in a statement): "We've always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees."

Editor's note: The spelling of Auni Ahsan’s name was corrected.

Go deeper

The rebellion against Silicon Valley (the place)

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images

Silicon Valley may be a "state of mind," but it's also very much a real enclave in Northern California. Now, a growing faction of the tech industry is boycotting it.

Why it matters: The Bay Area is facing for the first time the prospect of losing its crown as the top destination for tech workers and startups — which could have an economic impact on the region and force it to reckon with its local issues.

Complaint to FTC: Amazon search results full of potentially deceiving ads

Photo: Nigel Kirby/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Amazon does not sufficiently distinguish between its search results and paid ads, potentially "deceiving millions of consumers," according to a complaint filed to the Federal Trade Commission.

Why it matters: Joan Moriarty, research director for the Strategic Organizing Center, a coalition of labor unions that filed the complaint, told the Washington Post the group is "very hopeful" that the FTC will investigate the complaint because Lina Khan (D), a known Amazon critic, is now chair.

4 hours ago - Health

Pfizer-BioNTech: Booster doses more effective at blocking Omicron

Prepared doses of the BioNtech-Pfizer Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine in Germany on Dec. 7. Photo: Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday that two doses of their COVID-19 vaccine were significantly less effective at neutralizing the Omicron variant in early lab tests, but a three-dose regimen was more effective.

Why it matters: Omicron, which has been labeled a variant of concern by the World Health Organization after being identified by scientists in South Africa last month, has forced vaccine makers to reassess the effectiveness of their vaccines against this specific new form of coronavirus.