US Labor Board claims Google illegally surveilled, fired workers

The charges stem from 2019, when Google fired multiple employees after they organized protests.


Further evidence Google is consistently, aggressively (and unsurprisingly) cracking down on its workers' organization efforts continued to mount today as the National Labor Relations Board filed an official complaint against the company, alleging the tech giant illegally spied on and subsequently fired multiple employees last year. The NLRB's filing focuses particularly on Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, two former workers who were both terminated in late 2019 after speaking out against Google's decision to hire IRI Consultants, a firm notorious for its anti-union stances.

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Fired three hours after speaking out — The issues stem from the winter of 2019, when Google first fired Spiers, then a security engineer for the company, for "intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies." Mere hours before being sacked, Spiers circulated a string of code that displayed a pop-up notification whenever Google employees visited IRI Consultants' website. "Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities," read the message, which Spiers wrote in response to four of her colleagues' recent firings on similar grounds the same day the partnership with IRI Consultants was announced. (Incidentally, that round of firings resulted in its own, separate investigation from the NLRB).

"This week the NLRB issued a complaint on my behalf,” Spiers added. “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.” In 2019, Spires also noted that, of the five employees fired during that incident, three were trans women. "Trans Googlers make up a very small percentage of Googlers. They make up a slightly larger percentage of organizers, but not 60 percent," she told The Guardian last year.

Spurious grounds for termination — Not long after Spiers' incident, Berland received their own termination notice for purportedly reviewing employees' calendars while organizing to protest the company's partnership with IRI Consultants, something the NLRB determined was unlawful on Google's part. In a statement, Berland said, "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."

Add it to the pile of complaints — The news comes as Big Tech continues to wage its war on organization within its workplaces. Late last month, leaked documents from Amazon uncovered the company has regularly employed the Pinkertons in its efforts to spy on workers in Europe. Earlier in the year, it also came to light that Bezos' company researched software to aid in keeping tabs on union-sympathizing employees. By now, it's no surprise to hear Google behaving this way, but with the NLRB's announcement coupled with the DOJ's recent antitrust investigation, at least the public is finally catching on to the darker labor aspects of these mega-corporations.