The Alphabet Workers Union has filed a complaint to the US Labor Board alleging retaliatory layoffs of staff attempting to unionise. 

The Union’s Unfair Labor Practice charge was filed against Accenture and Google after they mass laid off employees who stated their intent to unionise back in early June of this year. 

Both companies laid off over 80 employees who worked on Google Help and Bard whilst subcontracted through Accenture on 6 July. 

According to the Union, over 70% of eligible workers had signed union authorisation cards by the time a union election with the National Labour Relations Board had been called. 

Tahlia Kirk, general writer at Google and a member of the Alphabet Workers Union, has pointed out the cognitive dissonance allegedly shown by the company. 

“It’s interesting that Google claims they’ve got no responsibility to us as workers, even though we spend every day working on Google products,” Kirk explained, “Google has also claimed that the decision to lay off workers was made before we announced our union – yet, in our recent joint employer hearing they couldn’t cite any documentation to prove this point.” 

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By GlobalData

Kirk’s assertion that Google were unable to provide documented evidence that the layoffs were decided on before the union was announced, was supported by the Alphabet Workers Union in their complaint. 

The writers and graphic designers affected by the layoffs worked on improving the standard of answers in Google’s Bard chatbot, as well as its search engine. 

This is not the first time that the workers behind AI chatbots have reported mistreatment. 

A petition was recently filed by subcontracted workers to OpenAI who had moderated the data its ChatGPT LLM was trained on. The petition states that the moderators were not appropriately trained to deal with the extreme content they would review. 

GlobalData predicts the AI market will be worth $383.3bn by 2030, averaging a CAGR of 21%. 

As AI trickles down into businesses, more focus has been placed on regulating the fair use and development of AI software. 

Just recently Google, alongside Microsoft, Anthropic and OpenAI, formed an industry body to oversee responsible AI development. But as its layoffs are challenged, Google may want to turn its attention to how the developers and writers behind profitable AI systems are also treated responsibly. 

The first wave of layoffs will affect workers on 7 August 2023 and will continue on a rolling basis.