Google reportedly asked US to scale back protection for activist workers

The company urged the National Labor Relations Board to rethink a precedent regarding employee use of email to organize protests, says a Bloomberg report.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
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Google has reportedly asked the US government to limit protection of activist employees.

The search giant urged the National Labor Relations Board to undo a ruling from a 2014 case, Purple Communications Inc., that gave workers the right to use their employer's workplace email system to organize about issues at their company, says a Thursday report from Bloomberg. The news outlet said it used a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain Google filings from 2017 and 2018 that ask the NLRB to overturn that precedent.

The Purple Communications ruling restricts companies from punishing staff for using workplace email for activities such as forming a union, passing around petitions or organizing walkouts. Google's attorneys wrote that the case "should be overruled" and the NLRB should let companies ban such internal email use, Bloomberg reported.

"We're not lobbying for changes to any rules," a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. "This was a legal defense that we included as one of many possible defenses in the response to a charge" before the NLRB.

"Google is one of the most open workplaces in the world," the spokeswoman said. "Employees have multiple internal forums to express their views, raise concerns and connect, including thousands of internal communities and tens of thousands of email groups."

The Bloomberg report comes after several high-profile protests by Google employees.

In November, Google workers around the world walked out of company offices over the search giant's handling of sexual harassment cases, specifically at the executive level.

In August, rumors about Project Dragonfly, an alleged Google program to build a censored search engine for the Chinese government, triggered employee protests and resignations, with roughly 1,000 workers signing a letter asking CEO Sundar Pichai to be transparent about the project.

And in April, more than 3,000 Google employees pushed back against Project Maven, which would've provided AI and image recognition technology to the US military for analyzing drone footage. Workers signed a petition calling on the company to end its work with the Pentagon, and Google said in June that it wouldn't seek to renew the Project Maven contract.

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