Google unveils Project Vivian, its secret plan to... disparage unions

The concerted effort involved top-tier company execs and ran from 2018 to 2020.

Seattle, USA - Oct 15, 2019: The new Google building in the south lake union area at sunset.
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Its name might evoke new, cutting-edge technology, but a recent top-secret endeavor at Google was anything but forward-thinking. A new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board revealed internal company documents for Project Vivian, a highly veiled program aimed at discouraging employee activism and, as one top exec put it, convincing workers “that unions suck.”

Running from 2018 to 2020, Project Vivian involved IRI Consultants, an aggressively anti-union firm that routinely (not to mention potentially illegally) monitors employees to gather info on their finances, work stances, and even ethnicity to help drive wedges in organizational campaigns. According to the NLRB, Google’s director of employment law, Michael Pfyl, explicitly explained his hopes that Project Vivian and IRI Consultants’ recommendations could help “engage employees more positively and convince them that unions suck.”

The new revelations come as part of an ongoing investigation brought to light by three former Google employees who allege the company illegally surveilled, then fired them for attempting to lead union efforts. Google, for its part, has yet to turn over the 180 documents to the NLRB, with its legal counsel citing attorney-client privilege. What ever could they wish to hide, we wonder?


Washing their hands of outside help — In justifying the decision to demand Google’s surrender of internal documents, an NLRB judge cited evidence in which one company attorney suggested soliciting a “respected voice to publish an OpEd outlining what a unionized tech workplace would look like, and counseling employees of FB (Facebook), MSFT(Microsoft), Amazon, and google (sic) not to do it.”

Google’s human resources director, Kara Silverstein, endorsed the idea, but cautioned it should be done so the op-ed would contain “no fingerprints” of the company and not be “Google specific.” IRI Consultants allegedly later provided execs with a draft of said op-ed, although it’s not clear if Google ended up pursuing the tactic.

Not too successful — Despite it being a steep uphill battle, employees at Google (and elsewhere) don’t appear to be discouraged by programs like Project Vivian. Two separate unionization efforts at Google are currently underway, with similar organizing taking place at major tech corporations like Amazon, as well.