Labor agency alleges Google illegally fired two workers who tried to organize

Another employee said she was let go this week over an email to colleagues.

Toby Melville / reuters

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has accused Google of illegally firing two workers who took part in labor organizing activities. The agency also claimed Google spied on employees who planned protests and that it has policies that dissuade workers from union organizing. Those alleged actions violate workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act, according to the NLRB.

Google told NPR in a statement that it supports the protected labor rights of workers. However, it claimed the employees at the heart of the NLRB's complaint carried out actions that constituted "a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility."

The company fired four employees last year in the wake of protests, but the NLRB only took up two of their cases. One of the said workers, Kathryn Spiers, added a pop-up notification to an internal version of Chrome that reminded her colleagues about their right to organize. At the time, Google said it "dismissed an employee who abused privileged access to modify an internal security tool."

The other former Google employee named in the complaint, Laurence Berland, was fired after viewing his co-workers' calendars. Google said it let Berland go over data security violations. Berland was involved in organizing against Google's partnership with an anti-union consulting firm. If Google decides not to settle the complaint, the case will go before an administrative judge.

Google has faced other accusations of retaliating against employees who have organized protests and reported workplace issues. Workers have demonstrated over the company's handling of sexual harassment. They have also protested its decision to work with the Defense Department and federal border agencies.

Meanwhile, Timnit Gebru, who was a co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, wrote that Google fired her yesterday over an email she sent to an internal group. Gebru said that her direct reports were informed that she had resigned (which she had suggested doing if the company didn’t agree to certain conditions), but claimed that wasn’t the case.