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Google employees to protest over activist workers sent home on leave

They say the two workers are facing retaliation for employee organizing.

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Google employees held a walkout last year.

James Martin/CNET

Google workers will hold a protest rally on Friday in support of two employees at the search giant who've been placed on administrative leave. Activists at the company are calling for Google to reinstate the employees, who say management has retaliated against them for speaking out against the tech giant. 

The two employees, Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers, will speak at the public rally, which will be held outside one of Google's San Francisco offices. The workers were placed on leave while the company investigates alleged policy violations, including accessing documents and calendar information outside the scope of their jobs, a Google spokeswoman said. But some of their co-workers said the move by Google is punishment for workplace organizing.

"It's a brute force intimidation attempt to silence workers and make it harder for us to fight back on issues of systemic racism, sexual harassment, harmful technologies, hate speech on our platforms, and business relationships with organizations that engage in human rights abuses," workers organizing at Google said in an email. 

A Google spokeswoman defended the decision to put the workers on leave, adding that it's common for the company to do so during an investigation. 

The rally comes as tensions escalate between Google management and rank-and-file employees. 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.

Relations between Google management and some workers have grown more intense in recent weeks. The company has hired an outside firm with a history of anti-union efforts, as Google deals with worker unrest. The tech giant last week 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. 

Google workers have also taken issue with a calendar tool the company has required employees to install on their computers. The software, an extension for the company's Chrome browser, is designed to flag meetings with more than 100 attendees or more than 10 rooms. Google employees accused the company of spying on activist or organizing efforts. The company said it was only trying to cut down on calendar spam. 

Berland and Rivers have been involved in many of the employee protests at Google, including a petition urging the company not to bid on contracts to work with border agencies, as well as a campaign against promoting harassment on YouTube.

Google workers have held rallies before. Last November, 20,000 employees walked out of the company's offices around the world in response to Google's handling of sexual harassment allegations against key executives. Six months later, employees held a sit-in to protest what they said was a "culture of retaliation" at Google. The company at the time denied the assertion.