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What just happened? It's been a rough couple of years for Google regarding the relationship with its workers. In this latest development, the National Labor Relations Board is preparing to file a complaint against Google for spying on employees engaged in union activities.
Google unlawfully spied on employees engaged in organizing before firing them according to the United States National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The board is readying a complaint after finding that Google violated multiple labor laws. The complaint further goes on to ask Google to reinstate two employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers.
The NLRB's complaint is a follow on from last December when the Communications Workers of America filed federal labor charges against Google's parent company Alphabet. The charges claim wrongful termination of employees in order to discourage organizing.
Spiers and Berland were terminated last year because of their actions related to Google's hiring of the anti-union IRI Consultants. Spiers created a browser pop-up notification that activated when Google employees visited IRI's website. The pop-up stated that "Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities." Google subsequently fired Spiers for violating security policies while Berland was fired for "repeated violations" of data-security policies related to him looking at other employees' calendars.
The NLRB found that Google's policy against looking at coworkers' calendars was illegal. Additionally, the termination of Spiers was found equally unlawful.
“This week the NLRB issued a complaint on my behalf. They found that I was illegally terminated for trying to help my colleagues,” Spiers said. “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.”
Tensions between Google and their employees have been growing over the last few years. In 2017, former Googlers filed a class-action lawsuit alleging gender bias in pay and career growth. The following year, Google faced massive internal backlash regarding its involvement in "Project Maven," a partnership with the U.S. military to analyze drone surveillance footage. The company also dealt with opposition to Project Dragonfly, a censored search engine built for the Chinese government.
The NLRB doesn't have any punitive authority but is set to go before an administrative law judge in the coming months. Google responded to the NLRB's complaint telling The Verge:
"Google has always worked to support a culture of internal discussion, and we place immense trust in our employees. Of course employees have protected labor rights that we strongly support, but we have always taken information security very seriously. We’re confident in our decision and legal position. Actions undertaken by the employees at issue were a serious violation of our policies and an unacceptable breach of a trusted responsibility."