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Google faces complaint from NLRB alleging surveillance of employees and other labor violations

Megan Rose Dickey
·3-min read
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Google employees walk off the job to protest the company's handling of sexual misconduct claims, on November 1, 2018, in Mountain View, California. Employees were seen staging walkouts at offices around the world after a report last week that Google gave $90 million in a severance package to Any Rubin and covered up details of his sexual misconduct allegations, which triggered his departure. (Photo by Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

The National Labor Relations Board today issued a complaint against Google after investigating the firing of several employees last November. The complaint alleges Google violated parts of the National Labor Relations Act by surveilling employees, and generally interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act.

The NLRB also alleges Google discouraged "its employees from forming, joining, assisting a union or engaging in other protected, concerted activities," the complaint states.

"This complaint makes clear that workers have the right to speak to issues of ethical business and the composition of management," Laurence Berland, one of the fired Google employees, said in a statement. "This is a significant finding at a time when we’re seeing the power of a handful of tech billionaires consolidate control over our lives and our society. Workers have the right to speak out about and organize, as the NLRB is affirming, but we also know that we should not, and cannot, cleave off ethical concerns about the role management wants to play in that society."

Ex-Googlers Berland and Kathryn Spiers previously filed a federal complaint with the NLRB arguing Google fired them for organizing, which is a protected activity. They had organized around a variety of topics, including Google’s treatment of its temporary, vendor and contractor workers, Google’s alleged retaliation against employees who organized, the company’s work with Customs and Border Protection and more.

Additionally, in November 2019, Google put Rebecca Rivers and Berland on leave for allegedly violating company policies. At the time, Google said one had searched for and shared confidential documents that were not pertinent to their job, and one had looked at the individual calendars of some staffers. Following a protest in support of the two, Rivers, Berland, Paul Duke and Sophie Waldman were fired.

In a statement to TechCrunch, a Google spokesperson said the company supports the rights of its employees in the workplace. Additionally, "open discussion and respectful debate have always been part of Google's culture," the spokesperson said.

We’re proud of that culture and are committed to defending it against attempts by individuals to deliberately undermine it -- including by violating security policies and internal systems. The NLRB determined today that Google was justified in terminating three employees who violated our data security policies.

We’ll continue to provide information to the NLRB and the administrative judge about our decision to terminate or discipline employees who abused their privileged access to internal systems, such as our security tools or colleagues’ calendars. Such actions are a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility, and we will be defending our position.

This comes shortly after the NLRB issued a formal complaint against Google contractor HCL, alleging the company repeatedly violated the rights of unionized workers. Moving forward, Berland and Spiers are hoping the NLRB prosecutes the case against Google and seeks reinstatement and damages for them. But the next step is for the complaint to head to the desk of an administrative judge.