Photo: Alex Tai/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
by Kenny Stancil, staff writer
“For a company with the slogan ‘don’t be evil,’ the findings are pretty damning.”
Former Google employee Laurence Berland, who was fired by the company in 2019 for labor organizing, says he feels vindicated by the NLRB’s complaint, which comes “at a time when we’re seeing the power of a handful of tech billionaires consolidate control over our lives and our society.”
Google repeatedly violated U.S. labor law when it spied on, probed, and terminated employees engaged in worker organizing in 2019, according to a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday.
In its complaint (pdf), the NLRB alleges that Google was “interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed in Section 7” of the National Labor Relations Act.
As The Guardian reported Wednesday:
The complaint was filed on Wednesday following a year-long investigation launched by terminated employees who filed a petition with the board in 2019, after hundreds of Google employees carried out internal protests and public demonstrations against Google’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This came after a huge walkout in 2018 over the company’s handling of sexual harassment allegations. The Communications Workers of America union helped author the workers’ charges.
The NLRB complaint absolved two fired employees of any wrongdoing and found Google repeatedly violated U.S. labor law by using “terminations and intimidation in order to quell workplace activism.” It also found Google’s accessing of worker calendars and other internal documents constituted unlawful surveillance.
Laurence Berland is one of the workers fired in November 2019 while trying to draw his coworkers’ attention to and organize opposition to Google’s ongoing efforts to work with IRI Consultants, a firm notorious for its anti-union agenda.
Berland on Wednesday called Google’s hiring of IRI “an unambiguous declaration that management will no longer tolerate worker organizing.”
“Management and their union-busting cronies wanted to send that message,” Berland said, “and the NLRB is now sending their own message: worker organizing is protected by law.”
Kathryn Spiers—another former Google engineer fired by the technology giant last year after she created a pop-up message informing company employees who visited IRI’s website of their “right to participate in protected concerted activities”—said the NLRB “found that I was illegally terminated for trying to help my colleagues,” though that can’t undo the harm done to her reputation.
“Colleagues and strangers believe I abused my role because of lies told by Google management while they were retaliating against me,” she said.
When Google dismissed Berland and Spiers, the company claimed “repeated violations of our data security policies.” But the NLRB complaint noted that “several of Google’s policies that prohibited workers from viewing internal documents were unlawful and selectively enforced,” as the New York Times reported Wednesday.
According to Alan Hyde, a professor at Rutgers Law School specializing in labor law, Google appears to have acted “as if labor laws didn’t apply to them and they could treat employees any way they like.”
“For a company with the slogan ‘don’t be evil,’ the findings are pretty damning,” tweeted labor journalist Lauren Kaori Gurley.