A group of four former Google employees who were recently fired plan to file labor charges against the company, accusing the search giant of retaliating against legally protected organizing activity.
The four former employees — Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman — were all involved in internal activism at the company, and worked to rally other workers to protest issues within the company, like Google’s plan to build a censored Chinese search engine and work with the Pentagon.
The former employees now say they will file unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that the company violated their rights by firing them for labor activity protected under the law. Under the board’s process, officials will now investigate the charges and decide whether to take further action.
“It’s clear that [Google’s] draconian, pernicious, and unlawful conduct isn’t about us,” the employees said in a statement. “It’s about trying to stop all workplace organizing.”
The former employees said in an interview with The Verge that they are working with attorneys on the labor issues involved, but plan to file one or multiple charges as soon as this week. “We need employees at a company like Google to be able to have a say in the workplace,” Berland says.
Google has repeatedly said that it fired the employees for accessing information beyond what they needed to do their jobs, and that it was not retaliating against worker organizing.
“We dismissed four individuals who were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees’ materials and work,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “No one has been dismissed for raising concerns or debating the company’s activities.”
The workers say anything they accessed was widely available, and that there was no rule against accessing it. As two of the workers, Rivers and Berland, were first placed on leave at the company, employees held a rally to voice support for them.
But Google has signaled recently that it is losing patience with internal activism. In one notable example, CEO Sundar Pichai announced that the company will scale back its TGIF meetings, where employees have been given a chance to hear directly from management. Pichai said in an email last month that the meetings will now be monthly and focus only “on product and business strategy.” Google also recently faced scrutiny for hiring a consulting firm known for anti-union work.
“Our coworkers have heard Google’s excuses,” the four former employees said in the statement, “and they aren’t buying it.”
Update, 11:36 AM ET: Includes statement from Google spokesperson.