January 17, 2021
Google broke US labor law by spying on and firing workers, complaint alleges

Google broke US labor law by spying on and firing workers, complaint alleges


Laurence Berland, who was fired from Google, at a rally last year.

James Martin/CNET

The National Labor Relations Board said Wednesday that it has filed a complaint against Google for allegedly violating US labor laws. 

The complaint says Google illegally surveilled then fired employees who organized protests against the search giant, according to the Worker Agency, an advocacy firm that works on labor campaigns. The filing addresses the terminations of Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, who were fired by Google last year after the search giant said they had violated its policies. 

The complaint alleges some of those policies are unlawful and that Google illegally interrogated and suspended employees, the Worker Agency said. Details of the filing were related by the advocacy firm, which worked with Berland, Spiers and Laurie Burgess, legal counsel for the pair. 

The NLRB confirmed it filed the complaint, but did not provide specific details. 

Google on Wednesday defended the action it took against Berland and Spiers. “We’re confident in our decision and legal position,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “Actions undertaken by the employees at issue were a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility.”

The complaint comes after a tumultuous period at the search giant, which has dealt with uprisings from its workforce over the past few years. Rank-and-file employees have spoken out against the company’s work in China, its contracts with the US military, and Google’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against senior executives. 

Berland and Spiers both organized protests at Google, including an employee response to the company’s hiring of IRI Consultants, a firm known for its anti-union efforts. Google fired Berland last year for accessing documents and calendar information outside the scope of his job. Berland said he didn’t break any rules by reviewing the information.

Activists at Google said the firing was punishment for workplace organizing. 

“Google’s hiring of IRI is an unambiguous declaration that management will no longer tolerate worker organizing,” Berland said in a statement. “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.”

Spiers was fired after creating a pop-up notification that appeared whenever Google employees visited the IRI website from a company computer. The notice described workers rights when it comes to labor organizing. The NLRB alleges Google violated labor law for punishing workers involved in creating the pop-up.

Last year, approximately 200 Google workers and other supporters rallied outside one of Google’s San Francisco offices. The activists alleged that Google management was retaliating against employees for speaking out against the search giant.

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