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Firing 4 Google Workers Is 'Illegal Retaliation,' Organizers Say

The workers, known as the “Thanksgiving Four,” all participated in a rally last week at Google’s San Francisco offices.

by Lauren Kaori Gurley
Nov 26 2019, 4:34pm

Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Workers who are organizing at Google say Monday's firing of four employees is an act of “illegal retaliation” from the company’s management intended to stamp out labor organizing.

Last week, roughly 200 Google employees protested the suspension of two workers—Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland—outside the company’s San Francisco offices for allegedly accessing and sharing internal documents, as well as tracking employee calendars, as previously reported by Motherboard. On Monday, Google fired both workers as well as two others who participated in the rally “for clear and repeated violations of... data security policies,” according to a memo posted by Google’s security and investigations team, first reported by Bloomberg News.

Organizers say Google recently revamped its policies around accessing certain documents with vague and purposefully unclear language in order to target organizers when necessary, as they claim to be the case with the “Thanksgiving Four.” The organizers deny that the fired workers leaked the content of internal documents.

“With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation against workers engaging in protected organizing,” Google organizers said in response to the firings. “This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won't stand for it....They think this will crush our efforts, but it won't.”

“Looking at such documents is a big part of Google culture; the company describes it as a benefit in recruiting, and even encourages new hires to read docs from projects all across the company,” organizers at Google say. “The [new] policy was unclear, even explicitly stating the documents didn't have to be labeled to be off limits. No meaningful guidance has ever been offered on how employees could consistently comply with this policy. The policy change amounted to: access at your own risk and let executives figure out whether you should be punished after the fact.”

Last month, Google also installed a tool on internal 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 monitor labor organizing.

The firings represent yet another instance of souring relations between employees and management at the tech giant, which has long been known for its open and collaborative work culture.

While Google has long set a gold standard for transparency in Silicon Valley start-ups, the past year has seen a sharp reversal of that legacy with workers at the company sparking an increasingly militant labor movement that has spread across the tech industry. Among other issues, worker activists have protested the company’s handling of sexual harassment, its relationships ICE and the Department of Defense, its treatment of temporary and contracted workers, and its record on the environment.

Are you organizing your tech company? We'd love to hear from you. You can reach out to Lauren at lauren.gurley@vice.com or securely on Signal 201-897-2109.

In May, Google hired a union busting consulting firm to stamp out efforts to organize the company, an unprecedented move for a major tech company looking to resolve issues with its white collar workers.

Google declined to comment on the firings, but confirmed the contents of the memo announcing the firings.

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