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Google workers to hold public rally in support of workers facing 'retaliation'

Google workers to hold public rally in support of workers facing 'retaliation'
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Google workers are planning to hold a rally on Friday in support of two colleagues who they say have faced "retaliation" by management at the company, according to an email sent to reporters from organizing workers.

Google has said the two workers — identified publicly as Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers — are under investigation for violating company policies. But workers have pushed back against those allegations, calling it a "brute force intimidation attempt to silence workers." They are asking for Berland and Rivers to be reinstated immediately.

More than 100 Google workers are expected to attend the rally and accompanying press conference at the company's San Francisco offices. The two workers are slated to speak to reporters about their experiences.

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The public event marks an escalation of internal efforts to push back against the company's decision to place the two workers on indefinite administrative leave, and it comes amid escalating tensions between workers and management at the tech giant.

"Without workers, users, creators, and our communities, Google would not be making over $20 billion in profits a year," reads the email from Google workers. "The attack on Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland is an attack on all people who care about transparency and accountability for tech."

A Google spokesperson told The Hill that one of the workers was put on leave while the company investigates why the employee accessed and disseminated confidential documents outside the scope of their job. The other employee was placed on leave after they tracked staff calendars in a way that made other workers feel unsafe, according to Google.

The company is pledging to investigate and take action against the employees if any policies were violated.
 
But the workers say the allegations are a front for retaliating against two activist employees.

Earlier this month, a group of about 20 Google employees staged a protest at the San Francisco office in solidarity with Rivers and Berland, saying the two were "standing up for their rights and the rights of their coworkers" when they were placed on leave.

Both Rivers and Berland have been involved in worker activism efforts at Google, including organizing against hate speech issues at Google-owned YouTube and Google's work with Customs and Border Protection.

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The workers are also parodying Google's claims that Berland improperly viewed staff calendars, circulating a mock form that asks Google's chief legal officer, Kent Walker, directly for permission to access documents.

"After two of my coworkers, Rebecca and Laurence were put on indefinite administrative leave without warning and made to feel like they don’t belong here, I want to be sure that accessing this doc or calendar won’t put me in the same situation," the parody Google form reads. "So before I continue my work I would like written permission from you that I may access this document or calendar."

Conflicts between workers and management at Google have been intensifying for months and have become more pronounced in the wake of the decision to put Berland and Rivers on leave. Google recently hired a public relations firm known for union-busting.

The workers are claiming that Google is stifling their ability to organize and mobilize effectively.

Several employees involved in previous organizing efforts have left Google as they allege the company was retaliating against them. In May, more than 1,000 Google workers participated in a sit-in protesting the company's alleged retaliation against employees who have spoken up critically against the tech giant, a Google employee told The Hill at the time.

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At the end of last year, more than 20,000 Google workers set off a wave of tech worker activism when they participated in walkouts at offices around the world to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment as well as general working conditions.

Google has traditionally branded itself as an open work environment where employees are allowed to express their views without fear of judgement or retaliation.

But that same ethos has enabled Google to emerge as a leader in the tech activist movement, which has grown in size and power over the past several years.

Google workers have banded together to protest their own working conditions — such as the differing treatment of contract and full-time employees — as well as Google's product decisions, such as the company's now-defunct plans to create a censored search engine for China.

"Enough is enough," reads the message workers sent around internally to announce Friday's action. "We are going to continue speaking up in the name of preserving Google’s open culture and our right to have a voice in decisions that affect us. Google runs on us. ... We all deserve a seat at the table."

Updated at 2:30 p.m.