back to article Labor watchdog accuses Google of illegally firing staff in union-busting push – as AI ethics guru Dr Timnit Gebru is pushed out

Google unlawfully spied on and interrogated staff to prevent them from organizing a union, and fired two employees in the process, it is claimed. The allegations were raised in a complaint [PDF] filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on behalf of the two dismissed staffers – Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spier – …

  1. Khaptain

    The preacher's rules

    Do as I say not as I do...

    So maybe Googles not so great, who would have thunk it?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Typical of many US Corps

    They will fire anyone with even the slightest link to a union.

    I worked for a US Company in New England once upon a time. It wasn't unionised but they didn't screw the workers into the ground and no one felt the need to join a union.

    Google, Tesla and many others are heavily anti-union. Raise your head above the parapet and it will get shot off.

    The sad thing is that these Corps will most certainly spend more on lawyers (who'd a thunk it eh?) than on working with the employees to sort out their issues.

    Google is acting more and more like Orwell's nightmare each and every day.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

    equivalent to "we take our customers' data with extremely seriously" and its variants, farted every time the culprits have failed to do exactly that. I'm really disappointed with google, I thought they're at the forefront of weasel wording?! C'mon Google, gimme some real BREAKTHROUGH bullshit!

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

      "We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace" isn't inconsistent with trying to limit those rights in number and scope behind the scene. We strongly support the 10 rights our employees have today, next year we strongly support the 9 rights our employees have today, and so on...

    2. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

      AFAIK -- and I work in California -- you don't have any discernable rights in the workplace. California is a 'right to work' state which is a rather Orwellian way of saying "they can fire you at any time, no reason or notice period needed". (The worker has the same right to leave the job at any time but........)

      The "AI Ethics Guru" went against corporate policy, was corrected by her supervisor and proceeded to do that because, dammit, she has rights and who is the corporation to tell me what to do (&tc.). The outcome was predictable. Speaking personally, with no knowledge of this person, the job or the company, I'd be pleased to be rid of her. Its not personal but as anyone who's worked on the sharp end knows the work attracts all sorts of marketing and management types who like to look after you and incidentally mooch off any kudos that's going. They're an irritant. (Diversity isn't an issue, either -- this type of workforce will take anything vaguely humanoid (and some can be fairly near the edge -- "Colon the Coder") provided they can do the work. Its the moochers that tend to argue about the spoils.)

      1. DryBones

        Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

        There's a big, big but there.

        You cannot LIE about the reason for the termination. Google appears to have done that. And like was done with the other four that were fired, there is a non-trivial chance of Google getting annihilated during the Discovery phase.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Boffin

          @Drybones Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

          I'm sorry but you need to be a bit more specific...

          In the US, companies can't really say anything other than confirm that you worked for them for a period of time (start date / end date ).

          This protects the employee from getting blackballed.

          Where Google may have lied is in their claim that she resigned rather than was terminated.

          That said... not sure what the legal ramifications are if she were to bring a wrongful termination lawsuit against Google.

          Now Wrongful termination lawsuits have ups and downs.

          And you can believe that companies will get managers and employees to lie against you.

          (I've seen it happen. )

          There are a couple of companies that I will never work for... AWS, Google, FB, Twitter are at the top of the list.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

        Ok... first

        'Right to work' is actually not a bad thing.

        That said... unionization in IT is a bad thing.

        (How many rock stars are in unions?)

        The issue is why a company fires or loses talent.

        1. Falmari Silver badge

          Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

          Never heard of The Musicians Union

        2. IGotOut Silver badge

          Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

          (How many rock stars are in unions?)

          Well about the MU in the UK has 30,000 members and the AFM in the US about 80,000

        3. onemark03

          How many rock stars are in unions?

          Rockstars are usually freelancers or some other form of self-employed contractor.

          I don't know what the benefits of union membership would be for them but if they do belong, then bloody good on them!

          FTR:

          I am self-employed / a freelancer and am fully in favour of unions as an essential element of any decent democracy.

          I also used to belong to a union when I was an employee but ceased to belong when I became unemployed and subsequently self-employed.

      3. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

        Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

        You can quit or be fired at any time for business reasons in California. It nullifies sneaky fine print in employment contracts and old tedious formalities but it doesn't nullify employee and employer protections.

      4. Richocet

        Re: We strongly support the rights our employees have in the workplace

        I think you got all of those downvotes because you don't understand how academic research works.

        At the start the researcher, the funders of the research and the hosting institution agree the topic of research and commit the funds. The research progresses and a paper is written containing the findings.

        The researchers have a very high quality bar to reach - verifiable evidence, apply numerous of error management techniques e.g. 'double blind', no opinions. The paper is peer reviewed by other researchers who are experts in that field. Any patents etc are registered if applicable. The funders and the hosting institution get to review the paper and ask questions. They don't get to bury the paper if they don't like it, they don't get to demand changes, or edit it. Firing one the researchers is outrageous. The worst thing any stakeholder can do (and should be allowed to do) is find flaws in their research or methods or data - which is tough if the researcher is competent.

  4. Howard Sway Silver badge

    What to Google and North Korea have in common?

    At one time it was the fact that they both have 2 'o's in their names.

    Now there appear to be more similarities. One is ruled by a sinister surveillance machine that tolerates no dissent and severely punishes any attempt at decency and freedom. And so is the other.

  5. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Angel

    "So I've been immediately fired :-)"

    Kind of interesting to end that sentence with a smiley. Is it happiness about being let out of jail, or the satisfaction of having grounds for a wrongful termination lawsuit?

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: "So I've been immediately fired :-)"

      If I was her, probably a little of both.

  6. EmilPer.

    evil corp vs evil identity activists

    evil corporation vs evil identity activists ... I wish gladiatorial combats were allowed, and they chose to go to the arena to settle their disputes

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Don't be evil....

      ....because we have patented it.

      Sincerely,

      Google management

  7. onemark03

    Google & union-busting in the US

    To this day I cannot for the life of me understand the paranoid attitude that US employers have towards trade unions.

    I understand that many people don't agree with trade unionism but American employers seem to me to be utterly paranoid on this issue. However, the question remains: why do US employers object to their employees wanting to protect their rights? Do they conflate trade unionism and communism, for example?

    To me (and I have said this before on ElReg), (a) trade unions are a fundamental element of any democracy and (b) there are more and bigger crooks in company boardrooms who can and do steal far more.

    1. Quentin Finknottle Again

      Re: Google & union-busting in the US

      Look at the UK in the 1960s and 70s. Back then, you would have been able to move your computer to another location. Plugging/unplugging a power lead is the electricians job - if anyone else did it, the electricians would immediately walk out on strike.

      1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: Google & union-busting in the US

        That's a myth. "I'm Alright, Jack" and "Carry On at your Convenience" weren't documentaries.

      2. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

        Re: Google & union-busting in the US

        That's odd. I was working in the 70s and don't remember any of that.

      3. Martin Gregorie

        Re: Google & union-busting in the US

        Look at the UK in the 1960s and 70s.

        Surely that was the 50s and 60s - at least that's when the better known British films about union malpractice were made.

        IIRC by the time I arrived in the UK in '73, the "winter of discontent" was over and done with. About the only places that were still union-dominated were the newspapers and British Leyland, which was still being run by a rather clueless management who seemed to be fully paid up members of the Old Boy Network, i.e. not dissimilar to ICL management prior to Rob Wilmot. Scargill and the miners strike was still in the future.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've seen the "Oh we thought you resigned so we told everyone, so tough luck. Now off you fuck..." trick first hand. It was a shitty thing to do, especially as the manager who was let go was quite high up, was actually a really GOOD manager who took care of the people who worked under her, and was (for the most part) liked/respected by those people. She never just swept her technical team's worries under the carpet, and was always up front and honest.

    Unfortunately this didn't fit in with the yes-men PHBs above. So they pulled the same trick. Manager goes on A/L, comes back and is told that the PHBs have informed everyone she quit. Can't do anything about it now, its too late. Made her position untenable. How they got away with it I'll never know.....

  9. onemark03

    How they got away with it I'll never know....

    Easy.

    She probably didn't belong to a union.

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