Outside Google offices in San Francisco today, more than 100 employees protested the company placing Laurence Berland and Rebecca Rivers on administrative leave and demanded they be allowed to return to work.
Berland has been active among employee organizers, and Rivers created a petition in August circulated among Google employees to implore the company not to bid on Department of Homeland Security contracts. Amazon and Microsoft’s GitHub employees have decried ICE contracts as well. An Associated Press report last week found that the U.S. government held a record 69,550 migrant children in 2019.
In speaking to the gathering Friday, Berland said Google management repeatedly asked questions about his work with employees organizing against YouTube’s treatment of LGBT users and Google’s ICE contracts.
“I was told this [administrative leave] was because they were investigating my document access to make sure everything was on the up and up; however, many of the questions during this interrogation focused on my involvement in a Customs and Border Protection petition and social media usage outside of work,” said Rivers, a software engineer who works in Google offices in Boulder, Colorado. “Many of my coworkers are immigrants, and this directly affects their lives and communities. I’m proud of what I did. I believe everyone has a right to know what their work is being used for.”
The rally follows a series of shake-ups and skirmishes between Google and its employees in recent weeks. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told employees last week that weekly TGIF meetings will be scaled back. The weekly all-hands meeting for open conversation had been a staple of company culture since its founding.
“TGIF wasn’t perfect, but at least we got the chance to ask the questions,” said Berland, who works in the San Francisco offices. “If we can’t speak up about these issues and concerns about our work, how can we ever hold ourselves to the high standards that we need and the world deserves? Silence and secrecy are not the way for us to come together to solve problems.”
Google recently fired an employee and placed two others on administrative leave for alleged violations of company policy. A company spokesperson told Bloomberg one employee placed on administrative leave searched and shared confidential documents and the other tracked calendars of community platforms, human resources, and communications teams employees. A Google spokesperson declined to disclose the names of employees placed on administrative leave or fired.
Berland and Rivers said they made no attempts to leak information to the press or access forbidden or protected files.
Earlier this week, Google hired anti-union consulting firm IRI Consultants, according to the New York Times.
The rally today comes roughly one year after a protest walkout by more than 20,000 employees at 50 offices worldwide to highlight misconduct, abuse of power, and Google participation in things like Project Maven with the U.S. military and Project Dragonfly for a search engine in China, according to a statement from employee organizers.
Since then, employees have continued to speak out about a range of grievances, from the treatment of Google Assistant temporary employees to a company culture that tolerates the mistreatment of female employees by people like Alphabet chief legal counsel David Drummond.
A protest was also organized by employees outside annual shareholder meetings in June.
Approximately 54% of the company’s workforce are temporary workers, according to an estimate by Google employees. A group of Google temp employees in Pittsburgh voted in September to unionize and form the Pittsburgh Association of Tech Professionals.