Google illegally fired two activist employees, federal labor board alleges

Google illegally spied on several workers involved in labor organizing activities and then fired two of them, the National Labor Relations Board said in a complaint it plans to file Wednesday.

Last year, the tech giant said it had fired Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers for allegedly violating its data security policies. In fact, their firing was intended to quell workplace activism through intimidation, according to Laurie Burgess, the NLRB lawyer handling the case.

The employees were among several who had criticized Google over workplace issues including its hiring of union-busting firm IRI Consultants and contracts with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The board will seek the reinstatement of the two employees along with damages for them. An administrative judge will determine the outcome.

Google responded to the planned complaint by saying it stands by its actions and that it takes “information security very seriously.”

“We’re confident in our decision and legal position,” the company 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 news comes as Google grapples with employees who have increasingly spoken out against management, such as its handling of sexual misconduct as well as authorizing work on a censored search engine for China. In 2018, thousands of Google staffers went to the unprecedented length of staging a walkout to protest the use of arbitration in sexual misconduct cases. 

On Wednesday Berland and Spiers took to Twitter to applaud the NLRB for its complaint and to reiterate that they were fired unfairly.

“Just over a year ago, Google fired me, falsely claiming I violated data access policies, even though the documents and calendars in question were accessible by any employee,” Berland tweeted. “My coworkers and friends knew it was bullshit, and that’s what matters most.”

Spiers called for workers to unite to “tackle the power of the tech giants.” 

“It’s the only way to hold them accountable,” Spiers said. 

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