The National Labor Relations Board has accused Google of spying on workers and then firing two of them. In a complaint, the NLRB said Google fired Kathryn Spiers and Laurence Berland in 2019 for employee activism after spying on them.
Get Our Activist Investing Case Study!
Get the entire 10-part series on our in-depth study on activist investing in PDF. Save it to your desktop, read it on your tablet, or print it out to read anywhere! Sign up below!
Google accused of spying on workers
The NLRB said Google violated labor laws by spying on employees who were organizing protests against the company. Berland was reportedly organizing employees against the company's move to work with the anti-union firm IRI Consultants. Google fired him for looking at the calendars of other employees. The NLRB states that Google's policy that prevents employees from looking at some of their co-workers' calendars is illegal.
The company also reportedly fired several other workers following the protests. However, the NLRB only found Spiers' and Berland's terminations to be in violation of labor laws. According to The Verge, Berland said in a statement that Google's hiring of IRI "is an unambiguous declaration that management will no longer tolerate worker organizing."
Google fired Spiers after she created a pop-up for her co-workers who went to IRI's website. According to The Guardian, the notification stated, "Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities."
What happens next?
The New York Times reports that if Google decides not to settle the complaint, then an administrative judge will hear it within the next few months. The company may be required to pay back wages to Spiers and Berland and rehire them if it loses. Spiers said in a statement that the NLRB could order Google to rehire her, but it "cannot reverse the harm done to my credibility."
Google was once Big Tech's happiest company, but recent years have brought several scandals into the light. The company paid $90 million to former executive Andy Rubin in connection with an investigation into sexual harassment. Several protests at Google offices around the globe resulted from that, and over 20,000 workers walked out in protest.
Employees have also protested Google's decision to work on Project Maven with the Department of Defense. The artificial intelligence initiative could enable the U.S. to improve its capabilities in drone strikes. Over 3,000 employees signed a petition in 2018 calling on CEO Sundar Pichai to stop working with the DoD on the project.
In a statement, Google said it is "proud" of its culture and "committed to defending it against attempts by individuals to deliberately undermine it."