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Fired Google employees plan to file labor complaints with government

They allege the search giant terminated them for engaging in labor organizing.

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Google workers at a rally in San Francisco. 

James Martin/CNET

Four Google employees who were fired in November say they plan to file charges of unfair labor practices against the search giant with the National Labor Relations Board. In a blog post Tuesday, the former employees accused Google of firing them for "engaging in protected labor organizing."

Google last month said it fired four employees for what the company said were violations related to data security. The terminations came just days after approximately 200 Google workers and other supporters held a rally outside one of Google's San Francisco offices. The activists at the rally alleged that Google management was retaliating against employees for speaking out against the search giant.

The four employees -- Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers and Sophie Waldman -- said Tuesday that Google tried to "smear" them in media reports. They said the company spread false rumors that the employees "leaked" sensitive information. 

"No company -- tech giant or otherwise -- should be able to interfere with workers' rights to organize for better working conditions, including ethical business practices," they wrote in a joint statement. 

The firings are sure to intensify tensions between Google management and rank-and-file employees who've protested the company's decisions on social issues. The search giant has hired an outside firm with a history of anti-union efforts, as Google deals with uprisings from workers. The company earlier this month said it would scale back its TGIF town hall meetings, a long-standing company tradition. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the meetings will be held monthly, instead of weekly or biweekly, because of a "coordinated effort" to leak comments made at the internal meetings.

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Rebecca Rivers, one of the fired Google employees, spoke at a rally last month.

James Martin/CNET

Activists within the search giant have protested several decisions by leadership, including the signing of an artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon, Google's work in China and leadership's handling of sexual assault allegations.

Google on Tuesday denied the claim that the employees were fired for speaking out against the company.

"We dismissed four individuals who were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees' materials and work," a Google spokeswoman said in a statement. "No one has been dismissed for raising concerns or debating the company's activities." 

At last month's rally, two of the fired workers, Rivers and Berland, gave speeches condemning Google's actions. The two were placed on administrative leave earlier for accessing documents and calendar information that Google says was outside the scope of their jobs. The two employees, along with Duke and Waldman, were fired days later. Since the firings took place right before the Thanksgiving holiday, the group earned the nickname among Google activists as the "Thanksgiving Four."

"Our coworkers have heard Google's excuses, and they aren't buying it," the fired employees wrote Tuesday. "Meanwhile, we too will continue the fight, alongside a broad coalition of those who understand the stakes of Google's power, and the company's lack of accountability."

Originally published Dec. 3, 7:29 a.m. PT.
Update, 9:34 a.m.: Adds more background and statement from Google.

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