MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA—According to a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) today, Google is in violation of US labor laws for spying on and firing workers who were organizing employee protests.
Two employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, are named in the complaint.
Both individuals were fired by Google in late 2019 in connection with employee activism. In recent years, the company has had to deal with what is being called “widespread worker unrest”, including walkouts in relation to sexual harassment and policy discrepancies.
Berland, in particular, was taking action against Google’s recent decision to work with IRI Consultants, which is a firm known for being anti-union.
Google supposedly dismissed Berland for looking at other employees’ calendars, but the NLRB has found that Google’s policy against employees viewing certain coworkers’ calendars is not lawful.
Spiers, meanwhile, was fired over her creation of a pop-up for Google employees—referred to as “Googlers”—visiting the IRI Consultants website.
Spiers’ position at Google often required her to write browser notifications that would appear on specific websites that other Google employees visited. These notifications could involve many subjects related to the company, such as reminders not to upload sensitive documents to certain sites.
According to “The Guardian”, the notification Spiers created for the IRI website read:
“Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities.”
Google suspended her only hours after the notification was made and fired her weeks later, claiming that what Spiers had done violated their security policies. The NLRB, however, has found her firing to be unlawful.
Amidst the organization of protests against Google, several other employees were fired, but the NLRB found that only Berland’s and Spiers’ terminations were unlawful.
“Berland was organizing against Google working w/ IRI Consultants, a firm widely known for its anti-union efforts, when he was let go for reviewing other employees’ calendars. The NLRB found Google’s policy against employees looking at certain coworkers’ calendars is unlawful. ..
— Google Walkout For Real Change (@GoogleWalkout) December 2, 2020
In a statement regarding the findings, Berland said:
“Google’s hiring of IRI is an unambiguous declaration that management will no longer tolerate worker organizing. 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 also made a statement regarding the case, saying that even though Google had been found to be acting unlawfully, the damage done went further than simply her termination:
“This week, the NLRB issued a complaint on my behalf. They found that I was illegally terminated for trying to help my colleagues.
Colleagues and strangers believe I abused my role because of lies told by Google management while they were retaliating against me. The NLRB can order Google to reinstate me, but it cannot reverse the harm done to my credibility.”
This week the NLRB issued a complaint on my behalf. I was illegally terminated for trying to help my colleagues. Workers must unite to tackle the power of the tech giants, it’s the only way to hold them accountable. https://t.co/SYuUDoJmWj
— kathryn spiers (@computerfemme) December 2, 2020
Should Google decide not to settle, the complaint will go before an administrative judge, and if it loses the case, the company could be forced to pay back wages and even rehire both Berland and Spiers.
Google has long been regarded as one of the top companies to work for in tech, but in recent years, the company has been steeped in scandal. Google’s decision to work with IRI and its firing of employee activists is only the latest in its increasingly concerning practices.
Regarding the NLRB’s findings in this particular case, however, Google issued a statement to “The Verge” asserting the company’s position:
“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.
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.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.- The Wall Street Journal recently reported that BigTech giants Google and Facebook are likely to have long legal battles in the near future as federal and state antitrust authorities prepare to file lawsuits against them.
Reportedly, the authorities are readying as many as four additional cases targeting Google or Facebook by the end of January 2021, following the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against Google back in October 2020.
The Department of Justice said that the action was brought to:
“Restrain Google from unlawfully maintaining monopolies in the market for general search services, search advertising, and general search text advertising in the United States through anticompetitive and exclusionary practices, and to remedy the effects of this conduct.”
According to reports, the lawsuits focus on whether the tech giant abused their power in the internet economy, focusing on Google’s position in the search and advertising industry and Facebook’s dominance in the social media market.
Both BigTech companies have denied doing so, claiming that they operate in highly competitive markets and that their services, which are mostly free, benefit consumers.
Google, specifically, has made plenty of statements in the past defending its practices, essentially stating that consumers are not forced to use Google products and services and that they exist as part of a competitive technology marketplace.
Broadly speaking, the case specifically against Google is that it uses its dominance in search and search advertising to box out potential competitors. Among its many tactics is pay to have Android phone manufacturers set Google search as default and pre-loading devices with Google apps.
Reportedly, the company also pays to have Google set as the default search engine on the iPhone as well.
According to another report, 50 state attorney generals, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, teamed up back in 2019 to launch an investigation, not a lawsuit, into Google over anticompetitive practices in its ad business.
Some of those same attorneys are who teamed up with the Department of Justice in October to filed the lawsuit against the company. Included in some of the cases is a coalition led by Paxton that could be filed by mid-December.
Allegedly, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is ready to approve a lawsuit against Facebook over the company’s acquisition of would-be competitors Instagram and WhatsApp. A case against Facebook would be the U.S. government’s first major antitrust action against the social media company.
The lawsuit filed against Google in October is the largest legal challenge that Google has every faced and one that could stretch out in court for years. It could also result in the company being forced to separate aspects of its business if the government wins.
A successful lawsuit could also cause consequences for Amazon, Facebook, and Apple. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai all appeared in front of lawmakers back in late July 2020 to face questioning.
This event marked the first time that the CEO’s testified at the same congressional hearing. House Democrats released a report of their findings in early October, declaring the companies to be monopolies that need to be regulated and even potentially broken up.
Reportedly, the companies are also facing scrutiny outside of the U.S. The EU filed an antitrust complaint against Amazon in early November, accusing the company of using third-party sellers’ data to inform its own retail strategies.
New lawsuits against Google and Facebook in the US: Exploiting their power in the Internet economy
— NNS Breaking News? (@Nnsnewsss) December 1, 2020
The EU also hit Apply with an antitrust investigation back in June to determine if the company gave its Apple Pay service an unfair advantage over competitors.
Regulation of the industry has become heavily politicized in the U.S. over the last year with both Republicans and Democrats calling for BigTech social media companies like Facebook to take more accountability in how it operates its online platforms.