Google reportedly hired outside firm to consult on worker unrest

Tensions continue to mount between the search giant's management and rank-and-file employees.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google is looking to an outside consultancy as the search giant tries to figure out how to deal with ongoing unrest and protests from its employees, according to a report Wednesday by The New York Times. 

The firm, Michigan-based IRI Consultants, has a history of "anti-union efforts," the Times said, citing work the company has done with hospitals and health care providers to stave off unionization efforts. 

The report comes as tensions have mounted 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 the with the Pentagon, Google's work in China, and leadership's handling of sexual assault allegations.

In recent weeks, relations between Google management and some workers have grown more intense. The company 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 bi-weekly, 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. 

According to the Times report, Google employees discovered the company's relationship with IRI after the introduction of the Chrome extension. Employees searched through an executive's calendar, which was visible to Google employees at the time, and saw the company had been meeting with the firm for months. 

Google said the firm didn't have any input on the decision to roll out the calendar tool. 

"We engage dozens of outside firms to provide us with their advice on a wide range of topics," a Google spokeswoman said. "To suggest this particular firm had anything whatsoever to do with the recent calendar extension -- or any internal policies whatsoever -- is absolutely false." 

IRI Consultants didn't return a request for comment.

Google has been accused of trying to clamp down on labor organizing in the past. Last month, Google reportedly attempted to cancel an employee meeting in Zurich to discuss unionization, though the workers held the meeting anyway.

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