NLRB charges Google with Unlawful Terminations, Surveillance and Interrogating its Workers
Google Charged With Unlawful Terminations
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a complaint against Google for violating a number of labor laws, including the terminations of Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, two Google workers who were fired last year as the company cracked down on labor organizing. The NLRB also found that Google unlawfully surveilled, suspended, and interrogated workers and that a number of Google’s company policies and practices were unlawful. These clear findings, despite the fact that the NLRB is led by a Trump appointee, confirm that workers have the right to organize and to speak up about issues that concern them and impact their workplace.
It has been just over a year since Google terminated several workers following a rally in San Francisco. The justification for Google's terminations used a pretext of violations of workplace policies that, prior to these firings, did not exist, as well as applying existing policies selectively. Google then made statements to both its own employees and the press smearing these workers with false allegations.
In response to these firings and after investigating the charges, the NLRB complaint states that Laurence and Kathryn did not violate any workplace policies. In fact, it is Google who repeatedly violated US labor law through terminations and intimidation in order to quell workplace activism such as the 2018 Google Walkout and the campaign to cancel Google’s contract with the DOD, Project Maven. In addition to the terminations, the other parts of the complaint found intimidation of workers placed on administrative leave and the creation and selective enforcement of vague policies, such as a restriction on the use of Google Calendar and limitations on access to documents relating to workplace policies.
Specifically the NLRB found:
- Google violated Section 8(a)(1) or (3) by placing Google workers on Administrative Leave and terminating one of them for accessing documents and/or calendars related the Meme Takedown process.
- Google violated Section 8(a)(1) or (3) by acting adversely against Google workers for their roles in the NLRB Pop-Up
- Google unlawfully interrogated Google workers about their concerns about their access of calendars and/or Meme Takedown documents.
- Google discriminatorily enforced its data classification policy.
- Google’s Calendar Access Rule was unlawful.
- Google’s Calendar Event Rule was unlawful.
- Google unlawfully surveilled employees protected concerted activities when Google workers viewed an employee slide presentation in support of the HCL union drive.
Hiring Of IRI
Laurence Berland, one of the terminated workers, was fired while organizing to counter management’s ongoing 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. 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. But the real strength of organizing at Google is that it did not heed the message,” said Laurence Berland. “Organizing at Google has never stopped. The No Police Contracts petition written in June is just one example of how Google’s workers refuse to be silenced or intimidated. The support of the NLRB is welcome and appreciated, even as we know that the support workers need most, and most have, is that of each other. I look forward to what we all will achieve next, together, as we continue to organize for a better company for all workers and for the world.”
Kathryn was fired for attempting to inform her coworkers of their rights, as described in a notice the NLRB had required Google to post for workers, if they were to attempt to view IRI’s website or the community guidelines from a corporate computer. After firing Kathryn, a Google spokesperson claimed Kathryn violated security policies for sharing a public notice, in an attempt to harm her credibility in the security community, an accusation definitively rejected by the NLRB’s finding.
“This week the NLRB issued a complaint on my behalf. They found that I was illegally terminated for trying to help my colleagues. 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.” said Kathryn Spiers, one of the Google workers fired for organizing. She continued: “It's wonderful that the NLRB is moving forward with its charge. However, the better measure of worker power is the support and community I've had over the last year. The NLRA doesn't grant us our rights and the NLRB doesn't protect them: They are gained through struggle and protected by our collective strength. Official structures matter less than making sure everyone gets the help they need.”
The Importance Of Prosecution
For workers rights in the United States, it is important that the NLRB will now prosecute these cases against Google and seek reinstatement and damages for Berland and Spiers, however we also note that the NLRB failed to issue complaints against Google for the wrongful termination of other Googlers. The NLRB refrained from issuing complaints on these charges based upon its conclusion that employees’ conduct of organizing against Google’s continued business with CBP, and with Google’s hiring of perpetrators of human rights violations from the Trump administration, was not protected under the NLRA. But the NLRB has, in the past, found actions such as the “day without immigrants” protest to be protected under the NLRA because the issue was of concern to and impacted workers, as these concerns with Google’s business and hiring practices clearly are to its workers.
The decision to dismiss these charges was made as part of the “advice” process at the NLRB, which comes directly from the General Counsel, a political appointee of the Trump administration. The lack of a finding of merit is a politically-motivated decision intended to further Trump’s racist and xenophobic policy agenda, and to enable the tech industry to further that agenda.
“This complaint makes clear that workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management. This is a significant finding at a time when we’re seeing the power of a handful of tech billionaires consolidate control over our lives and our society. Workers have the right to speak out about and organize, as the NLRB is affirming, but we also know that we should not, and cannot, cleave off ethical concerns about the role management wants to play in that society,” said Laurence Berland.
“We intend to vigorously appeal the dismissed charges to the NLRB to ensure that the right to engage in this type of protected activity is not encroached upon,” said Laurie Burgess, who is counsel for the Google workers.
Labor And Workers' Rights
President-elect Biden has repeatedly stated labor and workers’ rights are important to him and his administration. He won with a campaign vowing to fight for workers and strong unions. However, he has floated potential cabinet positions for numerous Silicon Valley execs, including a possible appointment for ex Google Chief Officer, Eric Schimidt and Kamala Harris’s brother-in-law Tony West, Uber’s Chief Legal Counsel for Attorney General. Silicon Valley have been some of the worst perpetrators of anti-union and anti-worker actions, most recently pumping over $200 million into the Prop 22 campaign in California.
This decision comes alongside a complaint in October in Pittsburgh against Google contractor HCL for offshoring and refusing to bargain with Google contract employees. The NLRB Region 6, based in Pittsburgh, charged HCL with breaking labor law and refusing to negotiate a bargain in good faith with the Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals. Most egregiously, the NLRB charged HCL with moving work to lower-paid tech workers in Krakow, Poland.
Importantly, the complaints now issuing in San Francisco note that Google illegally surveilled the creation and distribution of a slide deck of supportive messages full time employees created in support of the Pittsburgh contract workers’ union election. Several of the fired workers had included supportive messages in the deck.
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.