Biden Labor Board Counsel Revives Fired Googlers’ Claims

Three more Google employees’ firings should be added to a complaint accusing the company of illegally retaliating against activists, the federal labor board’s top prosecutor said in a letter, reversing determinations made under the Trump administration.

National Labor Relations Board Acting General Counsel Peter Sung Ohr wrote Wednesday that the search giant “arguably violated” federal labor law by “unlawfully discharging” activist employees Rebecca Rivers, Paul Duke and Sophie Waldman.

The Alphabet Inc. company was accused last year by the general counsel’s office, then run by Trump appointee Peter Robb, of illegally firing two other workers, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers. But the agency dismissed allegations made by Rivers, Duke and Waldman that Google also had retaliated against them.

Laurie Burgess, an attorney for the workers, said then that lawyers from the labor board’s advice division concluded that activism by the employees to protest Google’s collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection fell outside the scope of federal labor law protection.

Ohr directed a regional director to issue an amended complaint against the company that would include the three additional firings unless Google settles the case.

In an emailed statement, a Google spokesperson said, “Our thorough investigation found the individuals were involved in systematic searches for other employees’ materials and work, including distributing confidential business and client information. As the hearing on these matters moves forward, we’re very confident in our decision and legal position.”

The NLRB declined to comment on the issue.

Ohr’s revival of the fired workers’ claims is the latest sign of a more pro-labor approach at the agency under President Joe Biden. It also signals a broader view about what types of workplace protest are protected under U.S. law, a hot-button issue at companies such as Google where workers have mobilized to confront topics ranging from sexual harassment to a Pentagon contract.

Biden’s nominee to permanently replace Robb, Jennifer Abruzzo, is a former Obama-era acting NLRB general counsel who has since been working for the Communications Workers of America, the union which originally brought allegations about the Google workers’ firing to the agency.

In the complaint filed last year, labor board prosecutors alleged that Google broke the law “to discourage employees from engaging in” legally protected activism. Among the actions for which employees allegedly were punished was writing software code for a pop-up message about labor law rights that would show up when workers visited certain websites, according to the complaint, which also accused Google of illegally interrogating employees, maintaining rules restricting legally protected organizing, and enforcing other policies in a discriminatory manner.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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