Dec 18, 2019

Google fires another worker activist as labor unrest grows

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."
  • Former Googler (and Google walkout co-organizer) Meredith Whittaker: "This is BS. ... Kathryn was punished for organizing. Full stop."

Go deeper:

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Google and Amazon employees claim to face retribution for decrying corporate moves

Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

New incidents are highlighting deepening tensions between tech giants and worker activists as employees and former workers at Amazon, Google and other companies publicly decry corporate moves.

Why it matters: These companies are struggling to reconcile idealistic images and rosy reputations with the more hard-nosed tactics big companies frequently adopt to discourage protests and labor organizing.

Go deeperArrowJan 3, 2020

Sundar Pichai's Alphabet to-do list

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When he was recently named CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet, Sundar Pichai inherited a long list of issues in need of tackling — everything from addressing privacy and antitrust concerns, to managing an increasingly vocal workforce, to ensuring the future of the company's products.

The big picture: As Google CEO, Pichai was already responsible for much of this portfolio. Now, the buck truly stops with him.

Google received 3.3 million job applications in 2019

Workers constructing a Google booth at CES 2020. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The so-called techlash isn't hurting Google, at least by one measure. The search giant told Axios that Google received 3.3 million job applications in 2019, up from 2.8 million applications in 2018 — an 18% increase.

Why it matters: The move comes despite a wave of employee activism and outside calls to rein in the power and scope of Big Tech. One of the big question marks is whether those trends will ever begin to hurt recruiting efforts.

Go deeper: Google fires another worker activist as labor unrest grows