The head of Alphabet's union says labor organizing is at 'an inflection point' in the tech industry and beyond
- Labor organizing is at a turning point, says Parul Koul, the head of the Alphabet Workers Union.
- This year has seen a new surge of workers walking out, forming unions, and going on strike.
- Koul spoke at Insider's "Transforming Business" event, presented by Alight, on December 9, 2021.
The last two years have shaken up people's attitudes toward work in more ways than one. The pandemic ushered in an era of remote work, while emboldening people across industries to demand more from their employers.
Workers are quitting en masse in a movement that's been dubbed The Great Resignation. Those who remain at their jobs are fueling protests and unionization efforts that are impacting US giants from Starbucks, to John Deere, to Amazon.
"Union membership and labor organizing has been at a historic low point, but I actually strongly believe that we're at an inflection point," she said during Insider's "Transforming Business" event on December 9, presented by Alight. "Everything that's happened this year… should make us very, very hopeful and optimistic about the future of labor organizing."
Koul's comments came amid a wave of protests and walkouts by workers at dozens of companies who are demanding everything from higher wages to safer working conditions. The Alphabet Workers Union formed in January and counts as members around 900 full-time employees, vendors, and contractors that work for Google's parent company. Workers unionized to ensure fair working conditions and that they work on projects that align with their values, among other goals.
Issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion in corporate America are helping to drive organizing efforts, Koul said. People want to see companies try harder to hire a diverse workforce, rather than dance around the problem, she said.
"People are really tired of seeing a lot of conversation, a lot of trainings, a lot of spaces within the workplace to talk about these issues, but not actually seeing the numbers move," she said. "I think labor is ultimately the tool that workers have at their disposal to win concessions from their bosses on these issues. And that's why so much of the tech organizing you're seeing right now is led by people from those marginalized backgrounds."
Koul's advice for business leaders as labor organizing gains momentum? Don't stand in the way of organizing efforts and consider workplace changes that can bring real benefits to workers.
"It's not a day off here and there or a subscription to a mental health chat app or something like that. People want to be treated with real respect," she said.
Moreover, she argues, the changes unions are pushing for would ultimately benefit companies in tech and other sectors. Companies thrive when their employees are committed to and believe in the work they do, she said.
"Unions are fighting for better conditions for workers, and I think that's ultimately a prerequisite for the success of any innovation or creativity in the workplace," she said.