Google workers are holding a sit-in May 1 to protest alleged retaliation

The protest comes six months after the historic Google walkout.

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 workers walked out of their offices for a protest Nov. 1.

James Martin/CNET

Google workers are staging a sit-in Wednesday to protest alleged retaliation from management toward employee organizers at the company. 

The demonstration, which will start at 11 a.m. Wednesday, will be six months to the day of last year's historic walkout, in which 20,000 Google workers left their offices to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations directed at key executives. 

"From being told to go on sick leave when you're not sick, to having your reports taken away, we're sick of retaliation," the Google walkout organizers tweeted. "Six months ago, we walked out. This time, we're sitting in."

Google declined to comment on the sit-in, but pointed to a previous statement. 

"We prohibit retaliation in the workplace and publicly share our very clear policy," the spokeswoman said. "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."

In Silicon Valley, Google workers have become the poster children for 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 date of the sit-in is also May Day, an international day honoring workers.

The announcement comes after Google employees last week held a town hall meeting focused on the alleged retaliation. Two walkout organizers in particular said they've been unfairly targeted by the company. 

One organizer, Meredith Whittaker, who leads Google's Open Research program, said earlier this week that she was asked to choose between Google and her outside work. Whittaker co-founded New York University's AI Now Institute, a research center that examines the societal effects of artificial intelligence. Whittaker said Google asked her to give up that work after the company disbanded its own AI ethics board last month amid controversy over one of its members.

Claire Stapleton, a marketing manager at Google-owned YouTube, said she was told after the walkout she'd be demoted and lose half of her reports. She said she was also told to go on medical leave even though she wasn't sick. Google only walked back her demotion after she hired a lawyer, Stapleton said.

At the meeting, organizers at the company gathered hundreds of stories from workers who said they've faced retaliation from Google for speaking out against workplace misconduct.  

On Monday, walkout organizers shared some of those stories. One worker said they reported their tech lead to their manager for sexual harassment, but the manager said the person was "overreacting." "No additional actions were taken," that person said. "They both still work at Google."

After the town hall meeting last week, which was streamed in company offices all over the world, Google employees said there was more action coming. "The support was overwhelming," one employee who attended told CNET. "It looks like the company's misguided gamble to cut off the 'head' of the organizing against harassment, discrimination and unethical decision-making won't work."