Kathryn Spiers says she was fired after calling attention to Google’s contract with a ‘union busting’ labor relations firm
Several weeks after Google terminated four workers for allegedly violating its policies around accessing internal documents, the technology giant has fired another employee who participated in workplace organizing.
The employee, Kathryn Spiers, wrote in a Medium post on Tuesday that she was fired from Google’s Platform Security team on Friday for calling attention to its contract with “union busting” labor relations firm IRI Consultants.
Spiers, who worked at Google’s Sunnyvale, California office for nearly two years, built a pop-up window that, when Googlers visited IRI’s website, would appear on their screens with a message that said they had a “right to participate in protected concerted activities.” The message directed Googlers to employee guidelines that the company was required to post after a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) settlement in September.
Spiers also filed a NLRB charge against Google, claiming unlawful termination. OneZero reviewed the filing, which asserts that Google attempted “to quell Spiers and other employees from asserting their right to engage in concerted protected activities.”
Earlier this month, four other terminated Google employees — Rebecca Rivers, Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, and Sophie Waldman — also filed NLRB charges, claiming they were fired as a result of their organizing activity. Rivers and Berland were both catalysts of a November workers’ rights protest at the company’s San Francisco office. All four former employees plus Spiers are being represented by Laurie M. Burgess, an attorney at Messing Adam & Jasmine LLP. Burgess did not immediately respond to OneZero’s request for comment.
“They were trying to trick and coerce me into admitting something I didn’t do.”
Spiers told OneZero she was questioned by a Google investigations team for three weeks after she created the pop-up, including at meetings with Google’s director of global investigations Stephen King and staff attorney Elizabeth Karnes. Spiers says she was not allowed to have a lawyer present, and was asked to submit a list of anyone else involved with the pop-up’s creation
“Frequently at Google, things happen and we need to investigate and get to the bottom of things,” Spiers told OneZero. “That is not what these interrogations felt like. They were trying to trick and coerce me into admitting something I didn’t do.”
According to an internal memo sent by Royal Hansen, VP of technical infrastructure security and privacy at Google, and provided to OneZero by a Google spokesperson, the company alleges that Spiers “misused a security and privacy tool to create a pop-up that was neither about security nor privacy,” and was not authorized to do so.
Spiers claims she went through the standard procedures process for deploying a pop-up, and was one of the owners of this tool, having contributed to it many times before. “Up until Friday, I was the person who was in charge of Chrome extension security policy,” Spiers told OneZero. She wrote that part of her job at Google was to create browser notifications that inform co-workers of policies and guidelines.
Googlers have led the recent charge of rank-and-file technology workers who are challenging their companies on their corporate ethics. Groups of Google workers have opposed the use of Google’s technology by government agencies, its work on a Chinese-censored search engine, and its inaction around the targeting of LGBTQ+ persons on YouTube, for example.
Workers have accused the company of attempting to crack down on organizing efforts through surveillance tools and by firing involved workers.
“I think there are two contradictory things happening [within Google],” Spiers said. “On one hand, it’s having a chilling effect. But at the same time, it’s encouraging people who never would’ve participated in organizing in the past to really think about this, and to have conversations with their co-workers.”
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