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Google Workers Are Protesting the Suspension of Two of Their Activist Colleagues

On Friday, Google employees will hold a demonstration outside the company’s San Francisco offices. Two workers put on administrative leave for looking into internal docs will speak publicly.

by Lauren Kaori Gurley
Nov 21 2019, 7:02pm

Last week, Google placed two workers on administrative leave for violating company policies about accessing and sharing internal documents. On Friday, those two workers, who have now publicly identified themselves as Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers, will speak at a worker-led rally outside Google’s offices in San Francisco.

“The company is claiming that [the suspensions are] for looking up calendars and documents, which is something we all do but we know that it is punishment for speaking up for themselves and others,” Google workers organizing Friday's demonstration said in a statement. “We are demanding that Google bring these workers back to work immediately.”

The news comes amid escalating tensions between Google executives and employees involved in activism at the company on issues of sexual harassment, racism, pregnancy discrimination, and contracts with organizations that engage in human rights abuses. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Google has retained an anti-union law firm to advise management on how to handle internal dissent and organizing at the company.

In October, Google installed a Chrome tool on employees' web-browsers that flags calendar events involving more than 100 participants or 10 meeting rooms. Many employees believed the browser extension was being used to surveil employee organizing.

A Google spokesperson told Bloomberg that it had suspended one worker for sharing confidential documents, and that the other was placed on leave for tracking calendars of the human resources, community platforms, and communications teams. That spokesperson said that this behavior had made other employees feel uncomfortable.

The Google workers hosting Friday’s rally claim that the spokesperson’s statements were a misrepresentation of the facts, and that neither worker ever leaked information. Rivers, who works in Google’s Boulder, Colorado office, helped create a petition in August in which employees demanded the company stop bidding on contracts with ICE and Customs and Border Protection. The company put Rivers on administrative leave after she opened documents about Google’s “community guidelines” on removing content, which she discovered after reporting a meme, according to the Google organizers.

The second worker, Berland, who works in Google’s San Francisco office and has been involved in numerous organizing campaigns at Google, was put on leave without explanation, Google workers say.

“Google spokespeople spoke to the press while denying Laurence’s right to know the grounds of the investigation," the workers said. "But Laurence raised specific concerns with the community moderation team about these removals, repeatedly, including immediately prior to his being placed on leave.”

The rally will be attended by full time Google employees, as well as temps, vendors, and contractors, who recently lost permission to access internal documents at the company.

Organizers say that recent actions by Google to stamp out internal dissent are extremely concerning to them, especially at a company long known for its open and collaborative work culture.

“If [full time] Googlers will be placed on indefinite leave for merely accessing docs, we will similarly be much less able to effectively do our jobs," they said. "Even worse, without the ability to access docs, many of us would be unable to change teams, call attention to ethical concerns like Maven, or share in the massive job of maintaining the data of billions of users. This transparency is critical to our work, ourselves, and our users.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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