Google broke US law by firing workers behind protests, complaint says

Google violated US labor laws when it surveilled and terminated workers who organized employee protests, according to a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

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Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters

The complaint was filed on Wednesday following a year-long investigation launched by terminated employees who filed a petition with the board in 2019, after hundreds of Google employees carried out internal protests and public demonstrations against Google’s work with US Customs and Border Protection. This came after a walkout in 2018 over the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. The Communications Workers of America union helped author the workers’ charges.

© Photograph: Mike Blake/Reuters
The NLRB complaint accuses Google of ‘terminations and intimidation in order to quell workplace activism’.

The NLRB complaint absolved two fired employees of any wrongdoing and found Google repeatedly violated US labor law by using “terminations and intimidation in order to quell workplace activism”. It also found Google’s accessing of worker calendars and other internal documents constituted unlawful surveillance.

One of the fired workers, Laurence Berland, described the NLRB’s move as significant “at a time when we’re seeing the power of a handful of tech billionaires consolidate control over our lives and our society”. Berland was fired while organizing to expose and counter Google’s continuing efforts to work with the union-busting firm IRI Consultants.

“Google’s hiring of IRI is an unambiguous declaration that management will no longer tolerate worker organizing,” he said. “Management and their union-busting cronies wanted to send that message, and the NLRB is now sending their own message: worker organizing is protected by law.”

The other employee named in the complaint, Kathryn Spiers, was fired after she created a pop-up message informing Google employees visiting the IRI website of their right to protest. Google publicly accused Spiers of violating security policies, a statement she said hurt her reputation in the tech community. The NLRB has found the firing was unlawful.

“This week the NLRB issued a complaint on my behalf. They found that I was illegally terminated for trying to help my colleagues,” Spiers said. “Colleagues and strangers believe I abused my role because of lies told by Google management while they were retaliating against me. The NLRB can order Google to reinstate me, but it cannot reverse the harm done to my credibility.

The case is expected to be heard and decided by an administrative law judge in the coming months.

The NLRB and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Berland said he and his former colleagues would appeal after the board did not include in its complaint several other allegations sought by the workers.

“Google workers will continue to build worker power to fight back against the greedy company bosses who only care about how much money is in their bank accounts,” the workers said in a statement.

Reuters contributed to this report

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