Google faces labor probe over 'Thanksgiving Four' employee firings

Four fired employees participated in protests

The U.S. National Labor Relations Board has opened an investigation into allegations that Google violated labor standards when it fired four employees who played a leading role in recent protests against its workplace practices, an agency spokesman confirmed Monday.

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Filed by Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, on behalf of the four workers, the charge alleges that Google executives used an altered code of conduct to retroactively justify their firings. The company is also alleged to have engaged in “unlawful conduct” to discourage employees from union-related activities.

“We dismissed four individuals who were engaged in intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies, including systematically accessing and disseminating other employees’ materials and work,” Google said in a statement. “No one has been dismissed for raising concerns or debating the company’s activities.”

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Google first disclosed its decision to fire four employees – software engineers Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers and Sophie Waldman – in an office-wide memo the week of Thanksgiving, Bloomberg reported. The firings occurred just days after hundreds of Google employees held a protest outside its office in San Francisco over a decision to place two of the employees on leave.

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Democratic presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders each expressed support for the fired workers. Critics have accused Google of retaliating against the employees due to their prominent role in recent organization efforts at the firm.

The four fired employees – known on social media as the “Thanksgiving Four” – said in a Medium post they began protests because Google was “making unethical business decisions that create a workplace that is harmful to us and our colleagues.” The group cited Google’s development of drone technology for the U.S. Department of Defense and its purported work of a censored search engine among its examples of unethical behavior.

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“We’ve all been subjected to interrogations, some of us for hours, and all of us had our reputations smeared in the press as Google spread rumors that we were rule-breaking troublemakers who ‘leaked’ sensitive information,” the workers said. “This is flatly untrue, and in the privacy of our meetings with HR and Google’s internal investigations team, the company acknowledged this.”

Google has faced growing unrest among its employees in recent days. In October, several employees accused the firm of installing surveillance software on computers to monitor labor-related activities. Google said the tool was meant to cut down on digital clutter related to meeting invitations.