Alphabet Workers Union Responds to Google Layoffs

A guest contribution from CLN member Stephen McMurtry

On Friday, 20 January, Google parent company Alphabet announced that it would cut 6% of its workforce, or 12,000 employees. Alphabet was one of the last of the big tech corporations to do so: Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon had already fired over 10,000 workers each, and tech companies broadly have cut almost 250,000 positions since the start of 2022. Thousands of now-former Google employees in the United States woke up to find that they could not log into their corporate laptops—access had been cut in the middle of the night. The workers were promised generous severance, but they were not allowed to say goodbye to coworkers or even enter their offices for at least 60 days.

Alphabet is the only large tech company that has a company-wide union for corporate workers, the pre-majority Alphabet Workers Union—Communications Workers of America (AWU—CWA). The union does not represent most workers—with some exceptions—as it has chosen a pre-majority organizing model, in which workers publicly form a union and commit to building power to win over majorities of their coworkers.

The week after the layoffs were announced, our union sprang into action: we hosted a mass Zoom meeting with over 1,500 attendees and then followed up with in-person actions at Google offices around the country. Workers—many for the first time—tabled, held information sessions, and even threw a 500-person goodbye party for their fired coworkers at the Cambridge, MA office.

The following week, union members kept up the pressure by rallying outside of Google’s New York City office while executives were touting the layoffs in their Q4 earnings call. In conjunction with the layoff response at Google proper, groups of Alphabet subcontractors organizing with AWU—CWA conducted their own actions. “Raters” who tune Google’s search algorithm delivered a petition to Google’s Mountain View headquarters demanding that they be paid the $15/hr that Google promises to its subcontracted “extended workforce” but which these workers do not receive. At the end of the week, workers who help run the YouTube Music service went on ULP strike after their contractor, Cognizant, ordered them to return to the office after they filed for recognition with AWU—CWA.

There is a lot of work to be done before every Alphabet worker has adequate layoff protections, just wages, and a voice on the job, and we the workers of AWU—CWA will keep fighting to show our coworkers why they need to stand together in their union.

FMLA Turns 30

But when will the US join the world and assure PAID family leave?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is now 30 years old. The FMLA allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to greet the birth or adoption of a child or to tend to a personal or family health emergency. By centering family needs and calling on enterprises to accommodate them, FMLA represented an important step toward a more human economic model.

But FMLA was only one step. Because FMLA only covers firms with 50 or more employees, half of the private sector workforce is excluded from its protections. And while FMLA guarantees that workers can recover their jobs after their unpaid leave, many low-income workers can’t afford to take time off. That’s why every other developed democracy offers PAID family leave to new parents. Will the US ever follow suit?

Several states and the District of Columbia already have done this. Just last year, the Catholic Labor Network joined a successful campaign to pass paid family and medical leave in the state of Maryland. In most cases, the state has funded the benefit through a very small payroll tax that included contributions from both employer and employee. It’s an ingenious solution: by spreading the cost across the entire workforce, no individual enterprise takes an inordinate economic hit.

But only a federal law can make paid family leave universally accessible. It’s high time for our nation to catch up with the rest of the world in recognizing that family comes first. FMLA was an important first step, but it’s time for America to adopt paid family and medical leave for our nation’s workers.

Catholic Labor Network Annual Conference

On Saturday Jan. 28, the Catholic Labor Network was able to hold its first Annual Conference since COVID struck. Dozens of workers, clergy and lay Church leaders came together to reflect on the events of 2022 and lift up Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work. The event was held in conjunction with the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG), a larger event bringing together Catholic social justice activists sponsored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

One panel at the Conference focused on the Church and worker justice. Ingrid Delgado of the USCCB offered a wrap-up of the legislative efforts to improve working conditions in 2022, such as the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act. Jeffry Korgen discussed CLN participation in the synod process, and Michael Loconto of the Boston Labor Guild situated labor arbitration in the framework of Catholic Social Teaching.

A second panel reflected on labor struggles supported by the CLN in 2022. Participants heard testimony from several workers, including nurses who successfully won their fight for a union in two Catholic hospitals, and food service workers employed by multinational Sodexo who are organizing with UNITE HERE. The panel also explored the victory achieved by Washington DC’s domestic workers, who won a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights in 2022.

The Conference concluded with a report by the CLN’s Aimee Mayer on events in Nashville and a keynote address by Fr. Tim Graff [pictured], who discussed his work as Labor Liaison for Cardinal Joseph Tobin in the Archdiocese of Newark.

The Catholic Labor Network thanks our union sponsors who made the conference possible! They were UNITE HERE, IAM, UAW, UFCW, LIUNA, APWU, USW, UNITE HERE Locals 11 and 450, AFSCME Council 31, the Baltimore-Washington Building Trades, the Federation of Catholic Teachers (OPEIU), and the New York City and Sabine, TX Central Labor Councils.

Nurses Union Fighting to Improve Patient Care Nationwide

Ordinarily when we think of labor unions and their activity, we focus on their ability to secure better wages and benefits for their members. This is a critically important function of collective bargaining but hardly exhausts what unions do. Workers generally want to do their jobs well – indeed they are often more concerned about the quality of their craft than management, which is focused primarily on the bottom line.

We saw an example of this last Thursday when National Nurses United (NNU) led actions in front of hospitals across the country – public and private, Catholic and secular, for-profit and non-profit – to draw attention to a staffing crisis in American hospitals.

The nurses contend that patient care is being undermined by a shortage of nurses on duty in the nation’s ERs, and for years have called for staffing ratios limiting the number of patients assigned to each nurse. NNU regularly makes staffing ratios the centerpiece of its bargaining demands – it was staffing ratios that brought 7,000 NNU nurses out on strike in New York City a few weeks ago, and that dominated bargaining for 12,000 NNU nurses in Minnesota last September. The union persuaded California legislators to enact staffing ratios in law in 1999 and is pursuing safe staffing laws in other states.

Seeing a union taking action for the common good rather than narrowly focused on economic gains for its members may be surprising for some, but it should not be for Catholics. Historically the Church has seen unions as successors to the medieval guilds. The guilds served to establish prices and work rules in their trades, to be sure, but they were also created to preserve standards of quality and practice in their craft. As Pope Leo XIII noted in Rerum Novarum, the guilds “were the means of affording not only many advantages to the workmen, but in no small degree of promoting the advancement of art [49].” Clearly the Holy Father was hoping that the “workingmen’s unions” that he praised in the modern industrial economy would continue to do so. Nurses advocating for safe staffing ratios fall in this tradition.

Hospital administrators often object that they are doing their best and are struggling to hire and retain nurses as it is. Solving the problem may well entail offering nurses improved wages and benefits – after all, that’s how the market usually resolves labor shortages. But the nurses have made a sound and important choice – instead of leading with their economic demands, they have prioritized the issue of staffing ratios. Now they are trying to start a national conversation on the topic. Will we listen?

Breakthrough for Immigrant Workers

This month witnessed a breakthrough for labor law enforcement, one that specifically addresses the exploitation of immigrant workers. On January 13, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a guidance document on worksite immigration enforcement. The guidance describes how DHS, on a case-by-case basis, will temporarily forgo deportation proceedings against witnesses in important labor and employment law actions.

How would this work? Take the example of an undocumented immigrant who has worked 50 hours a week for an American custodial company for a year, but the company never paid her or her coworkers time and a half for overtime. If she should file a complaint with the Department of Labor, DOL investigators who needed her as a witness could request that DHS defer any deportation proceedings for up to two years as they pursued the case. She could even apply for work authorization during this period.

There’s a clear need for such a policy. Law-abiding enterprises can’t compete fairly with companies that cut corners by paying less than the minimum wage, fail to pay overtime, operate hazardous workplaces or deny workers the right to organize in unions. And when scofflaw firms get away with such behavior, they lower the standards for all workers. We have a strong public interest in seeing these laws enforced; witnesses who come forward are performing a public service.

Too often such unethical employers get away with these crimes by targeting undocumented workers, knowing that they will be hesitant to file a complaint out of fear of deportation. (When the Catholic Labor Network documented extensive wage theft in the Washington DC construction sector, many of the workers who told us about unpaid overtime said they were reluctant to make a complaint because of their immigration status.) But we need these witnesses to come forward. By offering deferred action or parole in acknowledgment to their contribution to the case, the DOL makes it more likely that even undocumented workers will stand up and report workplace violations.

Undocumented workers who report illegal labor exploitation are doing a service to the community. A temporary deferral of deportation proceedings is a price worth paying to obtain their testimony and secure justice for all workers.

Pope Benedict XVI, Friend of Labor?

Born Joseph Ratzinger, the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI first came to the world’s attention as an insightful theologian at Vatican II. He would become more widely known as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) under Pope St. John Paul II, and was elected his successor in 2005. He is almost universally described as a conservative – and rightly so. But “conservative” in what sense?

In American politics we have developed a notion that “conservatives” favor small government and free markets while opposing government regulations and labor unions. That may be what self-styled “conservatives” in American politics stand for, but it’s a far cry from the original definition of “conservative” – one who is skeptical of change and wants to “conserve” traditions, customs and ways of life and governance.

A theological conservative, Ratzinger spent much of his career defending Church orthodoxy. As Prefect of the CDF it was his job to do so, and it often put him at odds with Catholic progressives seeking changes in the Church. What does this have to do with labor? The right of workers to form unions is an orthodox element of Catholic Social Teaching, established clearly in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum and reaffirmed repeatedly by his successors. While some of Ratzinger’s “conservative” fans hoped he would change this, as Pope Benedict XVI he maintained Church teaching in this regard. In fact, in his social Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, he offered the most emphatic endorsement of the right to organize you will find in a papal document:

Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers’ associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honored today even more than in the past [25].

That’s Ratzinger’s conservatism in a nutshell. Skeptical of “social and economic change,” which he believed was harming workers and labor organizations. Favorable toward “traditional networks of solidarity.” Reminding the faithful of the “repeated calls issued within the Church’s social doctrine” to promote labor unions – adding only the flourish that, in a globalized world, this traditional teaching is even more important now than it was in the past.

The Pope Emeritus had a lot to teach us about our faith, and a little about what it means to be “conservative” too. For another take on this theme, check out Michael Sean Winters, American conservatives don’t understand the late Pope Benedict’s legacy.


Arbitration, Unions and Catholic Social Teaching

A guest contribution from Catholic Labor Network member Michael Loconto. Michael teaches arbitration to union staff and officers at the Boston Labor Guild.

In the contentious world of labor relations, disagreements between workers and employers are frequent.  Collective bargaining agreements offer methods of self-help to the parties: grievance processes compel management and labor to meet and discuss dispute resolution.  When an impasse cannot be overcome through a grievance procedure or contract negotiations, a neutral and impartial third party may be called in to resolve the dispute.

Arbitrators and mediators are alternative dispute resolution (ADR) providers, mutually selected by the parties to serve in place of costly and time-consuming court systems.  Mediators help the parties reach agreement on an issue by facilitating dialogue and lifting up voices, drawing out the strengths and weaknesses of arguments, and by helping to establish mutually shared interests that provide a foundation for resolution.

When employers and workers cannot agree to settle a contract or resolve a grievance, arbitrators may be called upon to issue a final and binding resolution.  Arbitrators are both empowered and limited by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.  That contract is a product of negotiation between workers and employers; a set of established rules and norms for the workplace that represent collaboration and compromise between management and labor.

A former judge recently attacked the grievance arbitration process in an editorial calling for police union reforms, asserting as evidence of a broken system one finding that more than half of all disciplinary cases had been overturned in a large urban department.  Such criticism ignores the social values of dignity and agency that are present in the arbitration process, exemplified by the principle of just cause and the reality that managers who administer discipline are human and may be susceptible to error and bias in the same way that employees may be capable of committing offenses worthy of discipline.  At arbitration, the appropriateness of a penalty is reviewed through the lens of progressive discipline, which calls for corrective rather than punitive measures intended to provide the employee with an opportunity to correct behavior.  Arbitrators also guard against disparate treatment among individuals found responsible for similar offenses.

Anthony Annett writes about labor and management sharing a joint vocation in Cathonomics.  Unlike the winner-takes-all approach of litigation, no matter the outcome at mediation or arbitration the parties must show up at the workplace the next day and resume working shoulder-to-shoulder.  While the losing party may be disappointed by the outcome in an arbitrated dispute, employers and workers can have confidence in the expectation that an unbiased and objective arbitrator will consistently apply the terms of their collective bargaining agreement to resolve disputes.  This stability is key to industrial peace in a long-term collective bargaining relationship.


Pope Francis recently addressed members of the CGIL — Italy’s version of the AFL-CIO — about labor unions, worker justice and other themes. The English version of the Holy Father’s remarks comes courtesy of Google Translate.

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

I welcome you and thank the Secretary-General for his words. This meeting with you, who form one of the historic Italian trade union organizations, invites me to express once again my closeness to the world of work, in particular to the individuals and families who are struggling most.

There is no union without workers and there are no free workers without unions. We live in an age that, despite technological progress – and sometimes precisely because of that perverse system that calls itself technocracy (cf. Laudato Si’, 106-114) – has partly disappointed expectations of justice in the workplace. And this asks above all to start afresh from the value of work, as a place of encounter between the personal vocation and the social dimension. Working allows the person to realize himself, to live fraternity, to cultivate social friendship and to improve the world. The Encyclicals Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti can help to undertake formation courses that offer reasons for commitment in the time we are living.

Work builds society. It is a primary experience of citizenship, in which a community of destiny takes shape, the fruit of the commitment and talents of each one; This community is much more than the sum of the different professions, because everyone recognizes himself in the relationship with others and for others. And so, in the ordinary web of connections between people and economic and political projects, the fabric of “democracy” is given life day by day. It is a fabric that is not made at a table in some building, but with creative industriousness in factories, workshops, farms, commercial, crafts, construction sites, public administrations, schools, offices, and so on. It comes “from below”, from reality.

Dear friends, if I recall this vision, it is because one of the tasks of the union is to educate in the meaning of work, promoting fraternity among workers. This formative concern cannot be missing. It is the salt of a healthy economy, capable of making the world better. In fact, “human costs are always also economic costs and economic dysfunctions always involve human costs as well. Giving up investing in people in order to make a greater immediate profit is a bad deal for society” (Enc. Laudato Si’, 128).

In addition to training, it is always necessary to point out the distortions of work. The throwaway culture has crept into the folds of economic relations and has also invaded the world of work. This is found, for example, where human dignity is trampled underfoot by gender discrimination – why should a woman earn less than a man? Why does a woman, as soon as you see that she begins to “get fat”, send her away to avoid paying for maternity? –; You can see it in youth precariousness – why should life choices be delayed because of chronic precariousness? –; or even in the culture of redundancy; And why are the most demanding jobs still so poorly protected? Too many people suffer from lack of work or undignified work: their faces deserve to be heard, they deserve union commitment.

I would like to share with you in particular some concerns. Firstly, the safety of workers. Your Secretary-General has spoken about this. There are still too many dead — I see them in the newspapers: there is someone every day — too many maimed and injured in the workplace! Every death at work is a defeat for the whole of society. Rather than counting them at the end of each year, we should remember their names, because they are people and not numbers. Let us not allow profit and the person to be put on the same level! The idolatry of money tends to trample on everything and everyone and does not guard differences. It is about training to care about the lives of employees and educating oneself to take safety regulations seriously: only a wise alliance can prevent those “accidents” that are tragedies for families and communities.

A second concern is the exploitation of people, as if they were performance machines. There are violent forms, such as the hiring and slavery of laborers in agriculture or on construction sites and in other workplaces, the constraint on grueling shifts, the downward game in contracts, the contempt for motherhood, the conflict between work and family. How many contradictions and wars between the poor are consumed around work! In recent years, the so-called “working poor” have increased: people who, despite having a job, cannot support their families and give hope for the future. The union – listen carefully to this – is called to be the voice of those who have no voice. You must make noise to give voice to those who have no voice. In particular, I recommend attention to young people, often forced into precarious, inadequate, even enslaving contracts. I thank you for every initiative that promotes active employment policies and protects people’s dignity.

In addition, in these years of pandemic, the number of those who resign from work has grown. Young and old are dissatisfied with their profession, the climate in the workplace, the contractual forms, and prefer to resign. They look for other opportunities. This phenomenon does not mean disengagement, but the need to humanize work. Also in this case, the union can do prevention, focusing on the quality of work and accompanying people towards a relocation more suited to the talent of each one.

Dear friends, I invite you to be “sentinels” of the world of work, generating alliances and not sterile oppositions. People thirst for peace, especially at this moment in history, and everyone’s contribution is fundamental. Educating for peace even in workplaces, often marked by conflicts, can become a sign of hope for all. Also for future generations.

Thank you for what you do and will do for the poor, migrants, fragile and disabled people, the unemployed. Do not neglect to take care of those who do not join the union because they have lost trust; and to make room for youth responsibility.

I entrust you to the protection of Saint Joseph, who knew the beauty and effort of doing his job well and the satisfaction of earning bread for his family. We look at him and his ability to educate through work. I wish a peaceful Christmas to all of you and your loved ones. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you. And if you can, pray for me. Thank you!

Ending 2022 with Wins for Workers

The year 2022 has ended with some important wins for workers. Last week we noted in this space how, after years of effort, domestic workers in the US capital won a bill of rights in a unanimous vote by the DC City Council. This week we mark three more important developments over the Christmas season.

The Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act passed! All year Catholic Labor Network members and friends have been emailing their Senators or meeting with their legislative aides urging the Senate to pass this bill. The bill, supported by labor, women’s groups, and the USCCB, requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant women in the workplace. At the last minute, Senators adopted the legislation as part of the Omnibus spending passage and voted it into law!

Maryland Public Defenders won their union. Maryland’s public defenders and their support staff have been struggling with overwhelming caseloads. Unable to provide indigent defendants the legal counsel they deserved, they turned to the Maryland legislature and asked for the right to organize so they could bargain over this. The Catholic Labor Network and an array of civil rights groups supported their request with legislative testimony, and enabling legislation passed in Spring 2022. In a late November mail ballot, the employees voted overwhelmingly for union representation. The defenders and their staff are now represented by AFSCME Local 423, the Maryland Defenders’ Union.

Chateau Marmont workers won their first contract. For years, workers at the legendary Hollywood celebrity haunt had complained of poor treatment by ill-mannered guests and exploitative management. Last December the Catholic Labor Network co-hosted a listening session at nearby Blessed Sacrament parish, where the workers – some of them parishioners – told their story to Los Angeles faith leaders. The workers organized a boycott and in the course of the year won union representation with UNITE HERE Local 11. Now they have ratified a first union contract that includes a 25% wage increase, a pension fund, protections and free legal services for immigrants, and recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday, among other benefits.

Congratulations to the workers of the Chateau Marmont, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, and pregnant workers everywhere in the United States!

DC Domestic Workers Win Bill of Rights

After a long journey toward justice, Washington DC’s domestic workers scored a major victory yesterday when the DC City Council voted unanimously to enact a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Until now, domestic workers – maids, nannies, au pairs, and many home health aides – were excluded from employment law protections that most workers take for granted. Now the District has joined several other cities and states in passing a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

The legislation, known as the DC Domestic Workers Employment Rights Amendment Act, was announced in March. The legislation extends the protection of DC’s Human Rights law (which addresses both discrimination and sexual harassment) and its Occupational Safety and Health law to cover domestic workers. It further entitles domestic workers to a written contract explaining terms and conditions of employment.

The Catholic Labor Network has accompanied the domestic workers in their campaign for more than a year. In February, CLN co-hosted a “listening session” with domestic worker Antonia Sucro for area faith leaders, including several from DC-area Parishes and the Archdiocese of Washington. Like most domestic workers today, Sucro, a parishioner at St Catherine Laboure in Maryland, is an immigrant. She told of losing her job abruptly during the early spread of covid but – lacking a written work contract – was unable to access the supplemental unemployment benefits approved by Congress.

In the months since, the workers have tirelessly rallied and lobbied DC Council members to ensure that the legislation progressed. Catholic Labor Network has joined the domestic workers for these events and organized supporters to write letters and emails in support of the legislation.

Congratulations to DC’s domestic workers on their big win!