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Google accused of firing another activist employee

A security engineer says she was fired for creating an internal pop-up about labor rights.

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A Google engineer says the company fired her for labor activism.

James Martin/CNET

Another former Google employee is accusing the search giant of firing them for participating in labor organizing. Kathryn Spiers, who worked on Google's platform security team, said she was fired last week for creating an internal pop-up notification that linked to a list of employee rights in the workplace. Spiers said she also filed charges against Google with the National Labor Relations Board on Monday. 

In a blog post Tuesday, Spiers said part of her job was creating browser notifications that informed employees about things like company guidelines and policies. In November, she apparently created one that read "Googlers have the right to participate in protected concerted activities." 

It showed up when co-workers visited the company's community guidelines or the website of IRI Consultants, according to Spiers. Last month, The New York Times reported Google hired IRI, an outside firm with a history of anti-union efforts, as the search giant deals with uprisings from workers. "The company has never reacted aggressively in response to a notification such as this in the past. It's always been a celebrated part of the culture," Spiers wrote. "A less transparent Google is a less trustworthy Google."

She posted a picture of the browser notification to Twitter on Tuesday. 

Spiers says she was put on administrative leave just hours after pushing the notification live last month and fired on Friday. She said Google told her she had violated the company's security policies.

Google on Tuesday said it dismissed a security engineer who "abused privileged access to modify an internal security tool," but declined to confirm their name. Google said the issue wasn't that the pop-up was about workers' rights, but that it was created without authorization and was a misuse of a security and privacy tool. "This was a serious violation," said a Google spokeswoman in a statement. 

Spiers' firing follows the termination of four other Google employees last month, who have come to be known as the "Thanksgiving Four" because they were fired days before the holiday. Those employees were also active in organizing efforts at Google, speaking out against harassment policies at YouTube and urging the search giant not to work with US Customs and Border Protection. Earlier this month, the NLRB said it's opened a probe into Google over its labor practices after the four employees filed a complaint. 

Google at the time said the employees were fired for "intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies." The fired workers had accessed documents and calendar information that Google says was outside the scope of their jobs. But the employees said they were being targeted for their activism and organizing efforts.

The termination of another employee activist is likely to intensify relations between Google management and rank-and-file employees who've protested working conditions at the company. Google last 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 bi-weekly, because of a "coordinated effort" to leak comments made at the internal meetings. 

Workers have also worried about the demise of Google's famously open culture since co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down as leaders of parent company Alphabet earlier this month. 

"Some had seriously hoped Sergey and Larry would step in and fix Google," employee organizers at Google tweeted. "Instead of righting the sinking ship, they jumped ship." 

Originally published Dec. 17, 8:19 a.m. PT.
Updates, 8:43 a.m. and 12:28 p.m.: Added more background.