- Google workers gathered outside the company’s San Francisco office Friday to protest its recent decision to put two employees on administrative leave.
- Protesters accused the company of retaliating against workers who have spoken out against some of its controversial projects, and charged that Google’s culture of openness is being stamped out.
- A Google representative denied that the company had done anything wrong by placing the workers on leave, adding that concerns had been raised about the employees’ work conduct.
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SAN FRANCISCO — Hundreds of Google workers gathered in the courtyard of the company’s office here on Friday to protest its decision to place two employees on administrative leave.
The two employees at the center of the dispute — Rebecca Rivers and Laurence Berland — spoke at the rally, accusing the internet giant of targeting them for being outspoken critics of some of the company’s recent work. Google is systematically stifling its former culture of openness, they charged.
“Even though Rebecca and I are experiencing the full force of Google’s retaliation, this is not really about me. It’s not about Rebecca. It’s about us, all of us, and the open culture we built and treasure together,” Berland said. “If they can do this to me, they can do this to anyone, and that culture is lost forever.”
Supporters carried signs saying things such as “Shame on Google!” and chanted, “bring them back!”
The rally highlighted the growing divide between Google’s employees and management. Over the past 18 months, the company’s workers have protested its decision to quietly develop artificial-intelligence technology for the US military and to build a censored search engine for China. Tens of thousands also walked out last fall in protest over the company’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints.
Demonstrators at the rally expressed concern over a number of Google’s more recent policies, including its decision to hold fewer company-wide meetings and to roll out an internal tool that can detect when employees schedule meetings with large numbers of employees. Protesters linked these measures to the company’s reported hiring of IRI Consultants, an anti-union consulting firm. That move was yet another sign that the company is trying to quash employee activism, they said.
Berland and Rivers said Google placed them on leave for allegedly violating its policies — Berland for allegedly tracking other employees’ calendar meetings and Rivers for allegedly accessing and sharing sensitive documents. They both denied knowingly breaking any rules.
“Literally zero of the documents I accessed were leaked to the press,” Rivers said.
Google didn’t have any hidden motives for placing Rivers and Berland on leave, a company representative said. The search giant has “clear guidelines about appropriate conduct at work,” the representative said, adding that there were “a number of concerns raised” about Rivers and Berland’s conduct.
The company’s hiring of IRI Consultants is unrelated to any recent policy changes, the representative said.
“We engage dozens of outside firms to provide us with their advice on a wide range of topics,” the representative said. “To suggest this particular firm had anything whatsoever to do with the recent calendar extension — or any internal policies whatsoever — is absolutely false.”