On Friday, about 200 employees rallied outside Google’s office in San Francisco to demand that two suspended worker activists be reinstated. By Monday, at least one of the suspended workers said she had been fired, with reports that three other Google staffers had also been let go.
Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer at Google who had been involved with internal protests against Google’s work with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), announced her firing on Twitter on Monday afternoon. Three other Google staffers were also fired on Monday, according to an internal company memo obtained by Bloomberg.
I was just informed by @Google that I am being terminated.
— Rebecca Rivers (@Tri_Becca90) November 25, 2019
Leaders of Google’s security and investigations team said in the memo the firings were due to “clear and repeated violations of our data security policies”. Google confirmed the accuracy of the memo published by Bloomberg but declined to comment further.
The firings prompted immediate allegations of retaliation from current and former Google employees.
One of the organizers of the walkout, Meredith Whittaker, called Rivers’s firing “craven retaliation” in a tweet. Stephanie Parker, a current YouTube employee, called the terminations “inhumane” and “illegal” on Twitter. “I’m still here, still fighting, and not afraid,” she tweeted.
The firing of my co-workers is inhumane (right before Thanksgiving) and *illegal*. I'm still here, still fighting, and not afraid. https://t.co/eMB15Ms8Jg
— Stephanie Parker (@sparker2) November 25, 2019
Whittaker and another organizer of the walkout, Claire Stapleton, both left Google this summer after alleging that they had been retaliated against by management.
At the rally on Friday, Rivers had said that she had been questioned by the investigations team about her involvement with a petition calling on Google not to provide services to CBP, as well as her social media usage.
“I’m proud of what I did,” she said. “I believe everyone has the right to know what their work is used for.”
The public protest and firings are the latest indications of growing labor unrest at Google. The company has seen an upsurge in employee activism over the past two years, with many employees demanding a say in how their work gets used, as well as about their rights as workers.
Employees have protested a number of Google projects, including a contract to provide AI tools to the US Department of Defense’s drone program, a censored search engine for China, and the provision of cloud services to the fossil fuel industry. About 20,000 employees staged a walkout over the company’s handling of sexual harassment cases, and many have spoken out about the company’s expansive use of subcontracted workers with fewer rights and benefits.
In a defiant Medium post on Monday night, a group of worker-organizers expressed dismay at the company’s behavior.
“With these firings, Google is ramping up its illegal retaliation against workers engaging in protected organizing. This is classic union busting dressed up in tech industry jargon, and we won’t stand for it.”