Google Settles with 6 Engineers Over Workplace Activism

This isn't the first time Google has been accused of retaliation.

Imad Khan Senior Reporter
Imad is a senior reporter covering Google and internet culture. Hailing from Texas, Imad started his journalism career in 2013 and has amassed bylines with The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN, Tom's Guide and Wired, among others.
Expertise Google | Internet Culture
Imad Khan
2 min read
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

After a two-year legal battle, Google has settled with six engineers it allegedly fired as retaliation over workplace activism. The terms of the settlement are under a non-disclosure agreement. Four of the fired workers will not be given their jobs back, and the documents won't be made public, according to a report from Motherboard

Four workers were fired from Google in late 2019 for violating the company's security policy after engaging in workplace activism. In August of last year, a judge ordered Google to release 1,507 internal documents that laid out a secret campaign to crush union organizing within the company, known as Project Vivian. The aim of the program was to discourage employee activism, and according to a report from Input Mag, to convince workers that "unions suck." One of the employees who filed the complaint still works at Google. 

"We settled the NLRB charges and associated litigation and are pleased for all sides to avoid years of legal proceedings," a Google representative told CNET in an email. "We've always supported our employees' right to speak about working conditions, and we stand by our policies that protect the security of our systems and safeguard user, customer and employee data."

"I think this is about as much a victory as can be had through the NLRB," said Kathryn Spiers in an interview with Motherboard. Spiers was one of the engineers fired by Google. She went on to say, "I've spent two years doing this because I wanted reinstatement. I've watched everyone I've been excited to work with or organize with slowly leave Google. It's something I'll never get back."

An attorney representing Google told the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency representing the workers, that employees have no right to protest a company's choice of clients. In recent years, Google has made deals with militaries, immigration enforcement agencies and fossil fuel companies, choices that have irked some employees. Last week, Google allegedly retaliated against a Jewish employee for protesting against Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion contract with the Israeli Defense Force. The employee, Ariel Koren, wasn't fired for speaking to the press but was asked to abruptly relocate from San Francisco to Sao Paolo. 

"The announcement of this settlement makes clear that Google has no qualms when it comes to violating their workers' right to organize," the Alphabet Workers Union and the Communication Workers of America said in a joint statement to Motherboard. "Today, Google is being held accountable and must respect all workers choosing to exercise their right to organize." 

There was some disappointment among the workers that the AWU would no longer cover the legal fees to the NLRB, according to Motherboard. Still, the AWU-CWA will continue to pursue litigation to make clear that employees have a legal right to political and social justice advocacy under the National Labor Relations Act.