Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
On November 22nd, roughly 200 Google employees and supporters rallied to protest the suspension of two colleagues, Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland, for allegedly accessing internal information they shouldn’t have in the course of their worker activism. Now, it appears Google has fired both those workers, as well as two other employees who participated in the rally.
Bloomberg reports that Google sent out a company-wide memo today confirming that it had fired four employees for “clear and repeated violations of our data security policies,” saying those workers “were involved in systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work,” continued to do so after warnings, and leaked some of that information outside the company. Google confirmed to Bloomberg that the memo was legitimate.
In response, the 2018 Google Walkout organizers group is accusing the company of “union busting,” claiming in a blog post on Medium that the company is illegally retaliating against prospective union organizers like Rivers and Berland by changing its policies to let it fire whomever it chooses, when it previously allowed employees to freely access documents from across the company. The Google Walkout group claims that all four employees fired today participated in the November 22nd rally.
The Tech Workers Coalition has spoken out against the firings as well. The workers are being called “the Thanksgiving Four”:
Google fired the Thanksgiving Four for organizing at work. We’re calling on:1. Others to offer jobs to the Thanksgiving Four2. Those remaining @Google to speak out against this draconian act. This is meant to scare workers, don’t let it. https://t.co/4vN9x1xMTa— Tech Workers Coalition (@techworkersco) November 25, 2019
Rivers reportedly organized Google workers to protest the company doing business with US Customs and Border Protection.
Rivers confirmed on Twitter that she’d been terminated; Bertrand didn’t immediately respond to our request for comment. It’s not clear who the other two staffers are, or whether another staffer reportedly fired on November 12th was among the four who had been dismissed. (That seems likely, but perhaps it’s five employees in total.) Google didn’t immediately reply to a request to confirm or deny the Walkout organizers’ claims.
Tensions have seemingly been high inside Google for many months as tech workers found they have the power to protest such things as reports of sexual harassment, a censored Chinese search engine, and a controversial AI drone program for the Pentagon. Some 20,000 Google employees staged a walkout last November to protest sexual misconduct by Google executives, most recently leading to an investigation by the company’s board.
But one way or another, Google seems to be pushing employee organizers out of the company: Claire Stapleton and Meredith Whittaker, two organizers of that Google Walkout, alleged that they’d been retaliated against by company management, and wound up leaving in June and July respectively. Some employees participated in a sit-in to protest against that alleged retaliation, and walkout organizers demanded that Google investigate its own HR department. In September, Google reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board that required it to clarify that its policies “do not prevent employees from discussing workplace issues.”
The New York Times reported last week that Google has hired a consulting firm known for helping companies crack down against employee dissent, one that explicitly advertises “union vulnerability assessments” among other services.