In a complaint filed against Google and its parent company Alphabet, the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accused the Silicon Valley giant of “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees” who attempted to improve their workplace conditions.
According to the NLRB, Google illegally spied on employees who tried to unionize, ultimately firing several of them. The company also prevented staff from sharing work-related grievances on Google’s internal communication tool. If true, the allegations would amount to a serious breach of federal labor law.
The labor agency said it anticipates a response to its complaint from Google by mid-December, and plans to hold a hearing on the case in April next year.
In a statement issued to the media, the company said it supported “open discussion and respectful debate” in the workplace but that it was committed to preventing “attempts by individuals to deliberately undermine” Google’s “culture.”
But the NLRB clearly sees things differently. In its filing, the agency details how Google surveilled employees “on numerous occasions” and, in one instance, snooped on an employee presentation in support of unionizing. The complaint also says that staff members were “interrogated” about their organizing activities.
The year-long probe by the NLRB stems from a series of high-profile firings at the company that occurred in November 2019. The employees, who were allegedly terminated for sharing sensitive materials and security breaches, filed a complaint with NLRB, claiming they had been the victims of unlawful labor practices.
The NLRB ultimately concluded that Google had violated the rights of two employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers. Berland was among the employees axed for alleged data security violations, while Spiers lost her job after protesting Google’s relationship with a consulting firm known for its union-busting work.
Berland hailed the labor agency’s complaint, saying that it “makes clear that workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management.” She said that the NLRB’s case against Google comes at a time when “a handful of tech billionaires” are “consolidat[ing] control over our lives and our society.”
The tech giant has seen a string of employee revolts over the past few years. In 2018, more than 3,000 workers signed a petition calling on the company to withdraw from a Pentagon AI project, and called for a policy that would prohibit participation in the development of “warfare technology.”
Coincidentally, Google’s unofficial motto, “Don’t be Evil,” was dropped from the company’s code of conduct the same year.