Four software engineers say they were fired by Google last week in retaliation for workplace activism. The former employees plan to file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board in a move that will likely escalate tensions between Google’s management and workforce.
- How can Google regain its reputation as the architect of the modern workplace?
- Organized labor has not been a force in the technology sector. Will unionization gain momentum in the tech industry?
- Google hired IRI Consultants, a firm that advertises “union vulnerability assessments.” What impacts on Google’s culture will hiring an anti-union consulting firm have?
- Bonus questions: If you were CEO of Google, how would you regain trust with employees? How would you return to a sense of openness and transparency?
- Rebecca Rivers said she was being targeted for protesting against U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is testing a Google cloud product. Laurence Berland was active in protests against YouTube for its handling of hate speech policies.
- “With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation,” according to a statement from workers who are organizing at the company. “This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won’t stand for it.”
- Some Google workers have cited management moves — such as implementing a tracking tool on employee’s web browsers and hiring a consulting firm known for anti-union work — as attempts to curb activism. The company denies those charges.
The four employees were dismissed on November 25. An email by Google’s Security and Investigations Team stating: “We’ve seen a recent increase in information being shared outside the company, including the names and details of our employees. Our teams are committed to investigating these issues, and today we’ve dismissed four employees for clear and repeated violations of our data security policies.”
The employees — Rebecca Rivers, Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, and Sophie Waldman — disputed those allegations in an interview with Bloomberg News. They claimed they were fired for organizing opposition to Google’s work with federal Customs and Border Protection, and for other workplace advocacy.
On Friday, more than 200 people demonstrated outside Google’s San Francisco office for a protest organized by staff. The protesters demanded the company reinstate Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland.
Tensions are rising as Google cracks down on what had long been a freewheeling work culture that encouraged employees to speak out. Recently, Google canceled a regular series of company-wide meetings that allowed workers to pose questions to senior executives. Additionally, Google began working with a consulting firm that has helped companies derail unionization efforts.
These actions are a surprising departure for a company that has been considered a standard for the modern workplace. Google introduced many of the office perks that are now common across Silicon Valley, and its embrace of transparent relations between workers and management has influenced a generation of start-ups.
The Tech Workers Coalition, an advocacy group, said on Twitter that the four employees had been fired for “organizing at work” and encouraged workers at Google to “speak out against this draconian act.”
“This is meant to scare workers, don’t let it,” the tweet said.