Dec 18, 2019 - Technology

Google fires another worker activist as labor unrest grows

An illustration of darkened silhouettes in front of the Google logo.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Google has fired another worker — this time, an employee who created a browser pop-up that informed workers of their rights when they visited the website of a labor consultant Google had hired.

Why it matters: Remember yesterday, when we said that one of the big challenges facing Sundar Pichai is an increasingly activist-minded workforce? Well, we weren't kidding.

Driving the news: Kathryn Spiers was fired by Google on Friday and filed an unfair labor practice complaint on Monday with the National Labor Relations Board.

The twist: Both sides basically agree on what Spiers did. She created a browser pop-up that pointed to information that Google was legally required to share with workers. They just disagree whether it represents protected worker activism or an unauthorized misuse of company resources.

The bigger picture: Four workers have already complained this month to the National Labor Relations Board saying that their firing was improper.

What they're saying:

  • In her NLRB filing, Spiers says Google's actions were an "attempt to quell Spiers and other employees from asserting their right to engage in concerted protected activities."
  • Google, for its part, says the unauthorized use of the pop-up tool "was a serious violation" and insists it would have taken the same action no matter what unapproved content was served up. "We dismissed an employee who abused privileged access to modify an internal security tool," the company said in a statement to Axios.
  • Matthew Garrett, lead on Spiers' team: "Kathryn was on my team. There was zero reason why she should have asked anyone else on the team for authorisation to make changes to this extension. That's not how we do things."

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