Google sit-in: Workers protest alleged company retaliation after walkout

Some of the search giant's employees say they're being unfairly targeted.

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
3 min read

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. 

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Last November, Google workers staged a massive walkout. Now, six months later, their protest is taking a different form: a sit-in.

On Wednesday, employees at the search giant will hold a demonstration to fight against what they say is systemic retaliation at the company.

In particular, two longtime Google employees say they've been unfairly targeted by the company because of their roles in organizing the Google walkout. That protest saw 20,000 Google workers march out of their offices in response to the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations directed at high-level executives. The worldwide event drew international media coverage.

One organizer, Meredith Whittaker, said she was asked to give up her work at the AI Now Institute, a research center she co-founded at New York University that examines the societal effects of artificial intelligence. Another organizer, Claire Stapleton, said she was told after the walkout that she'd be demoted and lose half her reports. She said she was also told to go on medical leave even though she wasn't sick.

Google says retaliation is prohibited and that it investigates all allegations.

"We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy," a Google spokesperson said in an emailed statement Wednesday. "To make sure that no complaint raised goes unheard at Google, we give employees multiple channels to report concerns, including anonymously, and investigate all allegations of retaliation."

Wednesday's event is being held across the country on May Day, which celebrates the rights of workers and laborers. It starts at 11 a.m. local time.

At Google's corporate headquarters in Mountain View, California, the scene was calm. The company had amped up security and the media was asked to stay in a park on the outskirts of the main campus. 

Earlier in the day in New York, hundreds of workers participated in the sit-in, according to Whittaker. 

"Hundreds of people showed up to the @google NYC anti-retaliation sit-in, planned in under 24hrs," she tweeted on Wednesday. "So many brave people shared their stories. There were tears and talk of unions. #NotOkGoogle"

In addition to the sit-in, some workers plan to call in sick and others will use their out-of-office email response to highlight the protest, organizers said in a series of tweets Wednesday. Other workers may join local May Day marches.

Organizers also said that during the sit-in they'll share stories of retaliation and their demands will be read.

In Silicon Valley, Google workers have led the way for organized protest in the tech industry. In the past, they've rebelled against the company's work in China, military contracts and treatment of contract workers

The problems at Google have also attracted the attention of consumer advocates, some of whom say Google parent Alphabet has become too big to manage. On the same day as the sit-in, SumOfUs, an International consumer group, submitted a shareholder resolution asking Alphabet's board to consider selling off parts of the company. Alphabet has recommended shareholders vote against the proposal.

The proposal is set for a vote at Alphabet's annual shareholders meeting June 19.

The employee sit-in follows a town hall meeting that was convened last week to discuss responses to the alleged retaliation by managers at the search giant. 

Watch this: What's going on at Google?

Originally published May 1, 8:23 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:30 a.m. PT: Adds tweet on New York sit-in and background on shareholder resolution; and 2:30 p.m. PT: Adds more detail.