Google Staffer Claims She Was Fired Over Worker Rights

A Google worker has claimed that she was fired because she was reminding fellow workers at the search engine giant about their rights.

According to a post on Medium, security engineer Kathryn Spiers said she had created a Chrome popup notification to remind her fellow Google workers that they have the “right to participate in protected concerted activities.”

But Google bosses allegedly didn’t appreciate this and Spiers was suspended in November before she was fired last week.

Fired engineer

“My name is Kathryn Spiers. I was at Google for just under 2 years. I worked on the Platform Security team, focusing on Chrome’s use within Google,” she wrote “Part of my job was to write browser notifications so that my coworkers can be automatically notified of employee guidelines and company policies while they surf the web. I was very good at my job and Google has acknowledged this.”

Spiers said that Google was recently forced to post a list of rights that employees have in the workplace.

“So when I heard that Google had hired a union busting firm and started illegally retaliating against my coworkers, I decided to make sure that my coworkers knew about the posting,” Spiers wrote.

“I created a little notification, only a few lines of code, that pops up in the corner of the browser whenever my coworkers visited the union busters’ website or the community guidelines policy,” she said. “The notification said: ‘Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities.’”

Spiers insisted these types of code changes happens all the time, and Googlers often “add things to make our jobs easier or even to just share hobbies or interests. For example, someone changed the default desktop wallpaper during the walkout last year so that the Linux penguin was holding a protest sign,” she wrote. “The company has never reacted aggressively in response to a notification such as this in the past. It’s always been a celebrated part of the culture.”

“During my time on the security team, I’ve had many conversations about the importance of maintaining user trust,” she said. “My code – a small notification about employee rights – does not reduce trust. What does is the Director of Detection and Response signing a letter falsely accusing four of my coworkers. Or the fact that upper management is trying to use the security team to investigate employees and their organising activity.”

“Google’s response to this was to suspend me immediately and without warning,” she wrote. “This was the week of Thanksgiving, the same day they fired the Thanksgiving Four. They also dragged me into three separate interrogations with very little warning each time. The interrogations were extremely aggressive and illegal. They wouldn’t let me consult with anyone, including a lawyer, and relentlessly pressured me to incriminate myself and any coworkers I had talked to about exercising my rights at work.”

“On Friday, December 13 my interrogator called me to tell me that I was being terminated for violating Google’s security policies,” she wrote. “Google has overreacted in an egregious, illegal, and discriminatory manner. The notification I wrote had no negative effect on our users or other employees and Google will do its best to justify my firing in a way that pits workers against each other but they can’t hide behind this fabricated logic forever.”

Staff tensions

Earlier this month the Communications Workers of America union filed a federal labour charge against Google, alleging it unlawfully fired four employees (the Thanksgiving four) 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.

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.

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.

In April this year 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.

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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