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Google, Alphabet employees seek to form a union

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A group of more than 200 Google and Alphabet workers have announced their efforts to form a union. With the help of Communication Workers of America Union’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA), the Alphabet Workers Union seeks to be open to both employees and contractors.

Of the roughly 227 workers who have so far signed on to support the union, they have all committed to set aside 1% of the yearly compensation to go toward union dues. The bulk of the workers who have signed on are mostly based in offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and one in Cambridge.

“This is historic—the first union at a major tech company by and for all tech workers,” Dylan Baker, a software engineer at Google, said in a statement. “We will elect representatives, we will make decisions democratically, we will pay dues, and we will hire skilled organizers to ensure all workers at Google know they can work with us if they actually want to see their company reflect their values.”

Efforts to unionize at Google and Alphabet come following the creation of unions at tech companies Kickstarter and Glitch early last year. Additionally, workers at HCL Technologies workers who contract for Google in Pittsburgh and tech company cafeteria workers in the Bay Area formed unions last year.

“You have an industry of workers — the new generation of workers and the industry, especially tech and games, has been growing exponentially with young people,” CODE-CWA union organizer Wes McEnany previously told TechCrunch about why we’re seeing more tech companies organize. “Some of them make a lot of money and are working at companies that do really bad things. I think they’re at a position socially where they’re like enough is enough.”

Google has been at the center of a plethora of labor issues over the past few years. Between the the Google walkout, the reported retaliation against organizers of the walkout and the recent departure of Dr. Timnit Gebru, it should come as no surprise that folks at the company decided to make their organizing efforts more official.

In a press release, workers also pointed to how more than half of the people who work at Alphabet companies are contract workers and therefore lack many benefits. Additionally, workers take issue with hefty payout packages to executives accused of harassment, as well as with some of the company’s government contracts, such a s the one around military drone targeting.

Meanwhile, just last month, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Google alleging the company violated parts of the National Labor Relations Act by surveilling employees, and generally interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB also alleges Google discouraged “its employees from forming, joining, assisting a union or engaging in other protected, concerted activities,” the complaint stated.

Those are just some of the reasons why workers want to unionize and gain the legal right to collectively bargain over workplace conditions. Still, there is a lot that needs to happen before Alphabet Workers Union fully comes into fruition. As of right now, the 227 or so workers still need to get other Google and Alphabet workers on board in order to reach a strong majority of people in favor the union. As of September 30, 2020, Alphabet employed 132,121 people. The next step is then seeking recognition from Alphabet.

That last part can be difficult. Case in point: Kickstarter. When workers asked for voluntary recognition from Kickstarter in 2019, the company’s leadership refused to do so, despite workers having majority support. Instead, Kickstarter leadership forced workers to have a formal election with the National Labor Relations Board. It all worked out for Kickstarter workers in the end but it took about ten months from going public with its efforts to being recognized as the Kickstarter Union. Once official, Alphabet Workers Union will be part of CWA Local 1400.

“This union builds upon years of courageous organizing by Google workers,” Nicki Anselmo, a program manager at Google, said in a statement. “From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade.”

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

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Elon Musk is donating $100M to find the best carbon capture technology

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Elon Musk said Thursday via a tweet that he will donate $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon capture technology.

Musk, who recently surpassed Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person, didn’t provide any more details except to add in an accompanying tweet the “details will come next week.” It’s unclear if this is a contribution to another organization that is putting together a prize such as the Xprize or if this is another Musk-led production.

The broad definition of carbon capture and storage is as the name implies. Waste carbon dioxide emitted at a refinery or factory is captured at the source and then stored in an aim to remove the potential harmful byproduct from the environment and mitigate climate change. It’s not a new pursuit and numerous companies have popped up over the past two decades with varying means of achieving the same end goal.

The high upfront cost to carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS) has been a primary hurdle for the technology. However, there are companies that have found promise in carbon capture and utilization — a cousin to CCS in which the collected emissions are then converted to other more valuable uses.

For instance, LanzaTech has developed technology that captures waste gas emissions and uses bacteria to turn it into useable ethanol fuel. A bioreactor is used to convert into liquids captured and compressed waste emissions from a steel mill or factory or any other emissions-producing enterprises. The core technology of LanzaTech is a bacteria that likes to eat these dirty gas streams. As the bacteria eats the emissions it essentially ferments them and emits ethanol. The ethanol can then be turned into various products. LanzaTech is spinning off businesses that specialize in a different product. The company has created a spin-off called LanzaJet and is working on other possible products such as converting ethanol to ethylene, which is used to make polyethylene for bottles and PEP for fibers used to make clothes.

Other examples include Climeworks and Carbon Engineering.

Climeworks, a Swiss startup, specializes in direct air capture. Direct air capture uses filters to grab carbon dioxide from the air. The emissions are then either stored or sold for other uses, including fertilizer or even to add bubbles found in soda-type drinks. Carbon Engineering is a Canadian company that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and processes it for use in enhanced oil recovery or even to create new synthetic fuels.

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Chinese esports player VSPN closes $60M Series B+ round to boost its international strategy

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eSports “total solutions provider” VSPN (Versus Programming Network) has closed a $60 million Series B+ funding round, joined by Prospect Avenue Capital (PAC), Guotai Junan International, and Nan Fung Group.

VSPN facilitates esports competitions in China, which is a massive industry and has expanded into related areas such as esports venues. It is the principal tournament organizer and broadcaster for a number of top competitions, partnering with more than 70% of China’s eSports tournaments.

The “B+” funding round comes only three months after the company raised around $100 million in a Series B funding round, led by Tencent Holdings.

This funding round will, among other things, be used to branch out VSPN’s overseas esports services.

Dino Ying, Founder, and CEO of VSPN said in a statement: “The esports industry is through its nascent phase and is entering a new era. In this coming year, we at VSPN look forward to showcasing diversified esports products and content… and we are counting the days until the pandemic is over.”

Ming Liao, the co-founder of PAC, commented: “As a one-of-its-kind company in the capital market, VSPN is renowned for its financial management; these credentials will be strong foundations for VSPN’s future development.”

Xuan Zhao, Head of Private Equity at Guotai Junan International said: “We at Guotai Junan International are very optimistic of VSPN’s sharp market insight as well as their team’s exceptional business model.”

Meng Gao, Managing Director at Nan Fung Group’s CEO’s Office said: “Nan Fung is honored to be a part of this round of investment for VSPN in strengthening their current business model and promoting the rapid development of emerging services and the esports streaming ecosystem.”

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Google’s parent firm is shutting down Loon connectivity project

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Google’s parent firm Alphabet is done exploring with the idea of using giant balloons to beam high-speed internet in remote parts of the world.

The firm said on Thursday evening that it was winding down Loon after failing to find a sustainable business model and willing partners. The demise of Loon comes a year after Android-maker ended Google Station, its other major connectivity effort. Through Station, Google provided internet connectivity at over 400 railway stations in India and sought to replicate the model in other public places in more nations.

That said, Alphabet’s move is still surprising. Just last year, Loon had secured approval from the government of Kenya to launch first balloons to provide commercial connectivity services in Kenya — something it did successfully achieve months later, giving an impression that things were moving in the right direction.

Perhaps the growing interest of SpaceX and Amazon in this space influenced Alphabet’s decision — otherwise, the two firms are going to have to answer some difficult feasibility questions of their own in the future.

“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity — the last billion users,” said Alastair Westgarth, chief executive of Loon, in a blog post.

“The communities in areas too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people. While we’ve found a number of willing partners along the way, we haven’t found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business. Developing radical new technology is inherently risky, but that doesn’t make breaking this news any easier.”

The blog post, which makes no mention of what will happen to Loon’s existing operations in Kenya, characterised Loon’s connectivity effort as successful. “The Loon team is proud to have catalyzed an ecosystem of organizations working on providing connectivity from the stratosphere. The world needs a layered approach to connectivity — terrestrial, stratospheric, and space-based — because each layer is suited to different parts of the problem. In this area, Loon has made a number of important technical contributions,” wrote Westgarth.

More to follow…

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