Google Accused By US Union Of Illegally Firing Staff

Alphabet’s Google division remains in the headlines, after the Communications Workers of America union filed a federal labour charge, alleging it unlawfully fired four employees to deter workers from engaging in union activities.

The Communications Workers of America (CWA) union is the largest communications and media labour union in the United States, with roughly 700,000 members.

Its complaint against Google will automatically trigger a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) investigation, Reuters reported.

Union complaint

Last month Google fired four employees as they were allegedly in violation of the Alphabet unit’s strict data security policies.

But activist workers claim the move was in retaliation for a demonstration at Google’s San Francisco office, which was attended by more than 200 Google employees.

Reuters has seen a copy of the union complaint, and the NLRB investigation will examine whether Google violated the four individuals’ right to collectively raise concerns about working conditions.

Google fired the four named employees “to discourage and chill employees from engaging in protected concerted and union activities,” the filing allegedly states. “Its actions are the antithesis of the freedoms and transparency it publicly touts.”

Google did not respond to a request for comment on the filing Reuters reported, and but it also noted that Google had admitted last month it had hired a consultancy known for defeating unionism.

Some workers also cited Google’s recent moves, such as implementing a tracking tool on employee’s web browsers. Google for its part has denied those charges.

Working with staff

The CWA union has been trying to organise workers at Google, Laurie Burgess, an attorney at Messing Adam & Jasmine who worked on the NLRB filing told Reuters.

The union stepped forward to make the charge against the company “because it has been harmed by Google’s actions,” she reportedly said.

If the NLRB decides that Google has a case to answer, the CWA, the union could seek to reach a settlement or, ultimately appeal to a court, it has been reported.

CWA spokeswoman Beth Allen said its organising director has been in touch with Google employees for some time to offer assistance.

“It’s a good partnership we have and through their own organising if they decide they want to form a union, we’re here to help them,” she reportedly said. “We really believe in workers leading their own struggles.”

The four workers who were fired “visibly led and participated in” organising at Google, according to the filing.

One of the fired workers, Paul Duke, tweeted this week that he had been fired for “organising my coworkers and advocating for better working conditions for everyone who works at Google.”

Duke and sacked co-workers Laurence Berland and Sophie Waldman had publicly signed a petition in August urging Google to reject business from three US immigration agencies that the petition said had mistreated migrants.

The fourth fired worker, Rebecca Rivers, had protested Google policies that appeared to undermine its support for people who identify as gay, lesbian or transgender, Reuters reported.

Staff tensions

It is fair to say that Google has been dealing with internal tensions with its staff in recent years.

In April this year for example, at a ‘town hall’ meeting, staff alleged that Google regularly retaliates against employees who speak out.

And then on 21 October, several dozen workers at Google’s office in Zurich reportedly held an event about workers’ rights and unionisation, despite their managers’ attempts to cancel it.

In September contract workers for Google in Pittsburgh voted to join the United Steelworkers union.

But the biggest bone of contention in the past 18 months has been caused by sexual harassment concerns.

In November 2018, 20,000 Google staff around the world staged a mass walkout to protest at the lenient treatment and payouts for executives accused of sexual harassment.

More publicity came when the New York Times published an article in 2018 that alleged that Google had protected three senior executives from allegations of sexual misconduct, which allegedly included the father of Android Andy Rubin.

Rubin stepped down from his position as Android boss in 2013, and eventually left Google altogether in October 2014.

Rubin however has denied the sexual misconduct allegations and has said that the New York Times story contained ‘numerous inaccuracies,’ and wild exaggerations about his compensation.

But matters were not helped in March this year, when court documents revealed a very senior Google executive had been paid a huge amount of money as part of a controversial severance package.

Amit Singhal was reportedly paid as much as $45m according to some media reports, after he was allegedly forced to resign from the search engine giant, after a sexual assault investigation.

Google staff have also previously protested against a number of Google projects, including a censored search engine in China (Project Dragonfly) and a contract with the Pentagon to analyse drone footage (Project Maven).

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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