In the latest battle between big tech and employees, Google has fired four people who were active in labor organizing against the company. Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers are two of the former employees who were vocal about their opposition toward Google’s work with federal border agencies.
In recent months, others also have spoken out against the tech giant’s handling of sexual harassment cases, treatment of contract workers and affiliations with the Defense Department and Chinese government.
Rivers confirmed via Twitter on Monday that she had been fired. The names of the two other employees have not yet been released.
Earlier this month, Google placed Berland and Rivers on administrative leave saying they got into confidential documents irrelevant to their work. They were fired Monday.
Outside of the company’s San Francisco headquarters Friday, Berland and Rivers led a protest against being placed on leave. There were about 100 Google workers in attendance. The two have admitted to raising concerns internally regarding Google’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) but said they did not have access to any documents they were not authorized to view.
In an internal memo, first obtained by Bloomberg News, Google said the employees had repeatedly searched for, looked through and shared information “outside the scope of their jobs.” One of the workers reportedly set up email notifications that outlined the work and locations of other employees without their knowledge.
However, Google has not referenced a rule against setting up notifications to the press, but last week, upon news of Berland and Rivers being placed on administrative leave, told the Times it was investigating the matter to see if these actions were violations.
The Tech Workers Coalition tweeted Monday, saying Google’s move was not about security concerns and suggested it was retaliatory against Berland and Rivers for their outspokenness.
Google fired the Thanksgiving Four for organizing at work.
We're calling on:
— Tech Workers Coalition (@techworkersco) November 25, 2019
In August, nearly 1,500 Google employees signed a petition imploring the company not to sign a computing cloud agreement with CBP, which they argued had committed human rights abuses. The cloud would streamline CBP’s processes. Google’s September hiring of former Department of Homeland Security staffer Miles Taylor sparked backlash from Google employees who had objections to the Trump administration’s Muslim bans and family separation policies. At the rally, Rivers said members of Google’s security team interrogated her about the petition and the questions about Taylor’s hiring, and she said she took part in both.
BuzzFeed News found Google had deleted questions of Taylor’s hiring from internal message boards.
Google has been applauded in the past for its open and laid-back culture that encourages employees to speak out, which recent news is now calling into question. It also has recently canceled company-wide meetings that allow workers to raise concerns to senior executives and started working with IRI Consultants, a firm known for extinguishing unionization efforts, according to The New York Times.