OPINION: 4,000 Google cafeteria workers quietly unionized during the pandemic

The Washington Post

Google is famous for its cafeterias, which serve its legions of programmers and product managers everything from vegan poke to gourmet tacos — free.

But the cooks and servers behind those meals are generally contractors who work for other companies, and do not get the generous perks and benefits reserved for Google employees. So over the past few years, thousands of them have unionized, securing higher wages, retirement benefits and free platinum health care coverage.

Unite Here, a 300,000-member union of hotel and food service workers, has been steadily working to unionize Silicon Valley cafeteria workers since 2018, experiencing the most success at Google. Employed by the contract companies Compass and Guckenheimer, those unionized now make up about 90 percent of total food services workers at Google, according to the union. Workers have unionized at 23 Google offices nationwide, including in Seattle and San Jose.

A tight labor market combined with soaring inflation and pandemic-related safety concerns among front-line workers triggered a surge in filings this year to hold workplace union elections. Tens of thousands more workers voted to join unions in the first half of this year than in the first six months of 2021, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Law. Workers also have voted to unionize for the first time at Chipotle, Trader Joe’s and the recreation equipment maker REI — citing concerns related to safety and low wages.

More than 230 Starbucks locations have voted to unionize since last year, triggering tough opposition from the company, which recently was accused by the National Labor Relations Board of illegally withholding raises and benefits from union workers. And this year, the first Amazon warehouse and Apple Store voted to unionize.

Richard Ramirez, 33, who works at a Google office in Seattle receiving food shipments and making sure they’re stored safely, says he was skeptical when union representatives began approaching his colleagues.

“We had it relatively good,” Ramirez said. The $20 he made at Google was better than the $11 he made in a previous job that left him without enough money even to afford rent. Still, he was commuting over three hours a day because of the high cost-of-living in Seattle. He decided to support the union.

Now, he is paid $27 an hour, and the free health-care plan means he doesn’t think twice about getting the best care for his family, Ramirez said. The money has made a real difference for him.

“Since we unionized, I have bought a home and that was basically only possible because we unionized,” he said.

(Excerpted from the Washington Post. For the rest of the story, visit The Washington Post at https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2022/09/05/google-union-pandemic.)

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