What if Google unionized?

Last week more than 20,000 Google employees walked out of their workplace to protest, and demand major changes in, how the company handles harassment and discrimination. Mass employee organization, demands made of management — doesn’t that all vaguely remind you of some kind of old-fashioned twentieth-century concept? What was it called again? The name’s on the tip of my tongue, I swear…

A participant said, “Just the threat of us walking out was enough for the company to remove DeVaul from the payroll,” referring to Richard DeVaul, the Google executive who resigned this week amid a swirling storm of accusations of sexual harassment and worse. Meanwhile, an organizer of the walkout said, plaintively, “I hope I still have a career in Silicon Valley after this” … while other organizers declined to go on the record.

If only there were some formal, structured way in which tech employees could bring grievances to their management, and negotiate with them as a group, via, say, elected representatives, for whom protection from retaliation could be established. Surely the disruptors and out-of-the-box thinkers of Silicon Valley could come up with some revolutionary new system for that. Imagine — and I know this sounds like science fiction but bear with me — one day, such a structure might even achieve some kind of special legal recognition and protections.

But what would they call it? I don’t know. Maybe, and I’m just spitballing here, they could call it a “union” or something crazy like that. After the set operation, get it? They like math entendres down at Google, after all…

I am not necessarily saying such a concept is all benefit and no cost. I’m not even saying I think it would necessarily be a net good idea. But it is striking to me how nobody seems to have even publicly considered the possibility, under the circumstances.

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