Google employees unionize, escalating tension with management

Employees of Google and parent company Alphabet Inc. announced the creation of a union on Monday, escalating years of confrontation between workers and management of the Internet giant.

The Alphabet Workers Union said it will be open to all employees and contractors, regardless of their role or classification. It will collect dues, pay organizing staff, and have an elected board of directors.

The unionizing effort, a rare campaign within a major U.S. technology company, is supported by the Communications Workers of America as part of a recent tech-focused initiative known as CODE-CWA. Googlers who join the Alphabet Workers Union will also be members of CWA Local 1400. The group, which represents more than 200 workers in the U.S., plans to take on issues including compensation, employee classification and the kinds of work Google engages in.

“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,” Dylan Baker, software engineer at Google, said in a statement.

A letter from the union organizers published in the New York Times said workplace concerns at the company have been dismissed by executives for too long. Google has clashed with some employees in recent years over contracts with the military, the different treatment of contract workers and a rich exit package for an executive ousted for alleged sexual harassment.

“We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce,” said Kara Silverstein, director of people operations at Google, in a statement. “Of course our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”

A successful Alphabet union could limit executives’ authority, while inspiring similar efforts across Silicon Valley, which has mostly avoided unionization so far. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union filed paperwork in November to represent frontline workers at an Amazon facility in Alabama. The company’s U.S. warehouse workers currently aren’t unionized. A vote among the more than 5,000 workers at the site is expected in the coming weeks.

The announcement didn’t specify whether the new organization will try to secure majority support among Alphabet’s workforce, formal recognition by Alphabet or collective bargaining with the company, a process that has been aggressively resisted by U.S. corporations. CWA’s membership includes some workers, such as public university employees in Tennessee, who engage in collective action while lacking legal collective bargaining rights.

Google worker protests in 2018 forced the company to let a Pentagon artificial intelligence contract lapse. Employee uprisings also led the company to limit the use of forced arbitration that same year.

CWA has been supporting Google activists since at least 2019, when the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging workers were fired for taking collective action. In December, the agency’s general counsel took up some of those allegations, accusing Google of illegally firing, interrogating and surveilling activist employees. Google has denied wrongdoing, saying it supports workers’ rights and that the employees in question were punished for “serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility.”

More must-read tech coverage from Fortune:

  • Intuit’s CEO on the $7.1 billion Credit Karma acquisition, reorienting toward A.I., and reskilling workers
  • Commentary: The broken business model of Uber and Lyft is taking a heavy toll on society
  • WarnerMedia Studios chief on the controversial decision to release new movies on HBO Max
  • Look out for these new smartphone features in 2021
  • LinkedIn saw a massive influx in user posts and violations this year

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Australia is taking the escalating China trade conflict to the World Trade Organization

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is seeking help from the World Trade Organization to resolve a dispute with China over massive tariffs imposed on Australian barley.  

China imposed an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley imports in May – claiming the product had been imported against trade rules.

Trade tensions between Australia and China have intensified following months of disputes over cotton, timber, rock lobster, beef, wine and coal. 

“This is the logical and appropriate next step for Australia to take,” Mr Birmingham told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

More to come.

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Six-Day Major Lockdown In SA, The Toughest In The Nation Yet

closed sign

Yesterday, Premier Steven Marshall announced a major lockdown for South Australia. This has been one of the nation’s toughest coronavirus lockdowns to date.

In hopes of stopping what seems to be the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that has been escalating from a cluster in Adelaide’s north, a six-day major lockdown would serve as a “circuit breaker”.

This means all non-essential businesses closed, including numerous businesses, pet owners and funeral parlour operators are affected. This sparked a divided view in the state.

From midnight last night, only supermarkets, bottle shops, medical and mental health services, petrol station and childcare and school for families of essential workers are still open.

With this major lockdown, people will be restricted from going outside their homes, giving only one person per household the exception to leave the home each day, given the essentiality of the purpose.

Sadly, weddings and funeral will also be banned. Funeral directors and celebrants stated that the sudden ban on services is already having a devastating impact on families that were already grieving.

For instance, Sharon Muscet said she was midway through planning a service when she was notified of the six-day statewide lockdown. Since then, the family she had been working with are in distress, shocked and became quite angry towards the Government.

“You know, the sticking point was the word ‘banning’ funerals and they found it to be quite insensitive, was their words.” She added.

Weddings, on the other hand, were also moved on a last-minute notice.

Dog owners are also concerned for the well-being of their pets. Given that people aren’t allowed to go outside without a pressing reason, they are worried they might not be able to take their dogs for a walk.

Carolyn Jones, an RSPCA spokeswoman, already saw this coming. “We will have concerns if people weren’t able to take their dogs out for daily exercise,” she said. “It’s obviously good for the dog and good for the owner and we’ll await further direction from SA Health on that.”

With these restrictions being tough, supermarkets across suburban Adelaide, otherwise, will be allowed open 24 hours on weekdays, until 9:00 pm on Saturdays and from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm on Sundays for the next 14 days to facilitate physical distancing, under a measure announced last night.

Despite that, the announcement sparked buying, particularly at shops selling face masks. Instead of avoiding it, people have been hoarding goods. “It’s no point panicking and rushing out to the shop and, you know, buying up lots of toilet paper,” Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said.

Liquors stores, for instance, got people stocked up due to the re-imposition of quantity limits on certain items.

All of these grievances proved that people were overwhelmed with restrictions toughening up.

However, Raina MacIntyre, professor of Global Biosecurity from the University of NSW, said that the major lockdown was a good move to mitigate the outbreak at an early notice. She also cited that face masks should have been mandatory and not just encouraged.

“Earlier lockdown is always better,” she said.

Business SA hoped it would lessen the long-term impact for the organization’s members. Chief executive Martin Haese said he received more than 350 calls yesterday from concerned employers. He added that the measures were vital to making sure people returned to work as soon as possible. Should the numbers absolutely dissipate in the following days, work might resume. Although it is a tough pill to swallow, there is no denying that it is necessary.

A ‘full-scale humanitarian crisis’ is unfolding in northern Ethiopia as tens of thousands flee escalating violence

The UN said Tuesday that a full-blown humanitarian crisis was unfolding in northern Ethiopia, where thousands of people each day are fleeing the conflict in the Tigray region.

The warning came as diplomats and humanitarian officials reported heavy fighting in northern and southern Tigray, and as federal forces claimed “major victories” that would bring them closer to the regional capital Mekele.

A communications blackout in Tigray throughout the two-week conflict has made claims of advances difficult to verify.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced the military campaign in Tigray on 4 November, saying it came in response to attacks by the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), on federal military camps.

The UN refugee agency said Tuesday that around 27,000 Ethiopians had fled across the border into Sudan – a figure now rising by around 4,000 people each day.

“A full-scale humanitarian crisis is unfolding,” spokesman Babar Baloch told a virtual press briefing from Geneva.

“Refugees fleeing the fighting continue to arrive exhausted from the long trek to safety, with few belongings.”

Ethiopian refugees gather in Qadarif region, eastern Sudan


Those arriving in Sudan recounted terrifying scenes of artillery barrages and massacres.

“I saw bodies dismembered by the explosions,” said Ganet Gazerdier, 75, whose home was destroyed in the town of Humera, and finds herself at a refugee camp in eastern Sudan.

“Other bodies were rotting, lying on the road, murdered with a knife”, she added.

‘Final throes of death’

On Friday Abiy Ahmed declared the TPLF was “in the final throes of death” and gave regional troops three days to “rise up” and side with the national army.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed


In a Facebook post on Tuesday morning, he said their time was up and that “in the coming days the final law enforcement activities will be done”.

A government statement on Tuesday evening said federal forces controlled multiple towns in southern Tigray and were “pacing to Mekele”, getting as close as Mehoni, roughly 125 kilometres (78 miles) to the south.

Federal forces already claimed to control Tigray’s western zone, where fighting has been heavy, and over the weekend said they had seized the southern town of Alamata.

Fierce clashes occurred Tuesday in the region surrounding Alamata as well as in the northern town of Shire, where camps house thousands of Eritrean refugees, diplomats and humanitarian officials said.

A video released by the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency shows Ethiopian military sitting on an armoured personnel carrier next to a national flag

A video released by the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency shows Ethiopian military sitting on an armoured personnel carrier next to a national flag

Ethiopian News Agency

Also on Tuesday, a government statement said the army had carried out “precision led and surgical air operations” outside Mekele on Monday.

Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael said the strikes caused civilian casualties, which the government denied.

Diplomats say it is far from clear that federal forces will be able to quickly defeat the TPLF, which has considerable military assets and an estimated 250,000 troops fighting on mountainous terrain they know well.

The Ethiopian military is estimated at 150,000 troops, though that does not include special forces and militias.

A video released by the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency shows military cheering and dancing near the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions

A video released by the state-owned Ethiopian News Agency shows military cheering and dancing near the border of the Tigray and Amhara regions

Ethiopian News Agency

Mr Debretsion said Tuesday that “the government and people of Tigray” would hold their ground.

“This campaign cannot be finished. As long as the army of the invaders is in our land, the fight will continue.”

Rallying support

Abiy Ahmed has resisted calls by world leaders to cease hostilities.

His government has said there can be no mediation until Tigray’s leaders have been disarmed and brought to court.

Mr Abiy and his staff gathered at his office compound in Addis Ababa on Tuesday to salute the armed forces, waving flags as a military marching band played before holding their hands over their hearts during an extended moment of silence.

Ethiopians hold national flags as they gather at an event organised by city officials to honour the Ethiopian military

Ethiopians hold national flags as they gather at an event organised by city officials to honour the Ethiopian military


Similar ceremonies took place throughout the capital, with participants denouncing the TPLF.

“The government and the people you see today didn’t come out because they like war, but they want to terminate the criminal junta once and for all,” Addis Ababa resident Henok Lemma told AFP.

The TPLF dominated Ethiopian politics for three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018.

The military operations kicked off after months of worsening tensions as TPLF leaders were sidelined and became ever more defiant of the federal government.

Refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia arrive at Hamdayet, Sudan.

Ethiopia’s defiant Tigray regional government has fired rockets at two airports in the neighbouring Amhara region as a deadly conflict threatens to spread.


In recent days the TPLF has fired rockets on airports in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, south of Tigray, and in the capital of neighbouring Eritrea.

The strikes on Asmara, in particular, have reinforced fears that Ethiopia’s conflict could draw in the wider Horn of Africa region.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the strikes while commending “Eritrea’s restraint, which has helped prevent further spreading of the conflict.”

“We are deeply concerned by this blatant attempt by the TPLF to cause regional instability by expanding its conflict with Ethiopian authorities to neighbouring countries,” Mr Pompeo said.

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Thousands of Ethiopians displaced after escalating conflict in Tigray region – Channel 4 News

Forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region have fired missiles across the border into Eritrea – hitting the outskirts of the capital.

Tigray’s regional president described it as a “legitimate military target” – claiming Eritrean forces were collaborating with Ethiopia and fighting what he called a “full scale war”.

The escalating conflict has forced thousands of Ethiopians to flee into  neighbouring Sudan.

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ASML, Huawei and Qualcomm may be caught in the crossfire as SMIC runs risk of US blacklist in escalating tech war

The latest threat by the Trump administration to blacklist Semiconductor Manufacturing Industry Corporation (SMIC), China’s largest producer of silicon chips, will affect scores of customers and suppliers across the globe, as they get caught in the crossfire of a US-China technology war, fuelled by the worst bilateral relations in decades.The Trump administration is considering whether to add SMIC to a trade blacklist, which would force US suppliers to seek a difficult-to-obtain licence before…

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Cross-border communities grapple with tightening restrictions amid escalating coronavirus threat

Residents of South Australia’s South East may not be granted essential traveller status to attend medical specialist appointments in Western Victoria unless their condition is life-threatening or otherwise deemed necessary.

This comes as the State Government has moved to significantly tighten the state’s border restrictions with Victoria.

Mount Gambier’s medical fraternity has expressed concerns over widespread confusion as to whether patients can attend specialist appointments in Warrnambool, Hamilton and Portland.

These services include cancer-related treatment such as radiotherapy.

‘It’s going to be a difficult time’

Member for MacKillop Nick McBride warned residents from cross-border communities would not have an easy process amid concerns “people were escaping Melbourne”.

“For those who are suffering from the Victorian border controls now, it is going to get harder not easier,” Mr McBride said.

“There is great concern about the disease spread coming here from Melbourne.”

The politician conceded the issue was fuelling confusion and concern.

“It was certainly a grey area, but it is becoming more and more black and white,” Mr McBride said.

He said it was situation many people were not prepared for.

“It is very, very serious what is going on in Melbourne. There is no doubt COVID-19 is beyond the Melbourne lockdown areas,” Mr McBride said.

Mr McBride said people travelling into Western Victoria for medical appointments could be directed to self-quarantine on return for 14 days.

“It is going to be a difficult time for those who have that cross-border linkage, everything from work, education and health issues,” he said.

“There are 14,000 applications for these passes. My understanding is they will work through the most essential.”

Mr McBride said people determined to be low priority were likely to be refused a travel exemption.

“If it were for something like a dental appointment or a check-up, there would not be chance of it,” Mr McBride said.

“If it was something life-threatening, such as cancer and chemotherapy, they will have a higher level of essential travel. We have confidence in the system.”

Patients confused by border restriction process

Mount Gambier GP Mike Bruorton has raised concerns some residents may choose not to travel into Western Victoria for life-saving treatment amid tighter border controls.(ABC South East SA: Sandra Morello)

Mount Gambier general practitioner Mike Bruorton said there was widespread confusion among patients.

“I have seen a patient who has to see a specialist at Warrnambool, a haematologist, because she has cancer,” Dr Bruorton said.

“She brought in a form and was absolutely confused about what she was supposed to do next.”

Dr Bruorton said she was told to go online to access the forms and email them to police.

“Does she have to come back and self-isolate for two weeks? Apparently the advice is conflicting across the border as well,” he said.

Dr Bruorton said these appointments were essential for patients undergoing radiotherapy or who had recently had a scan for cancer.

Labor MLC Clare Scriven, who lives in the South East, said there needed to be greater clarity.

“It needs to be made clear what they can and cannot do and whether people with medical appointments can be granted exemptions,” Ms Scriven said.

She said it appeared the Government was focused on people travelling into South Australia for medical appointments, but not those travelling into Victoria.

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