a newly released Document clarification GoogleEfforts to quell activism among its employees, including unions. In an order filed Friday, an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board asked Google to turn over documents from a group of current and former employees related to its “Vivian program” to attorneys representing it and to hire a consulting firm provide advisory services. Employers fight unions hard.
After worker activism began to ramp up in late 2018, Google launched Project Vivian to discourage workers from unionizing. In the order, Google’s labor law director Michael Pfyl described the Vivian Project’s mission as “to engage employees more aggressively and convince them that unions suck.” It’s not clear from the order that the context of Pfyl’s description is that the order also mentions Efforts to use the media to quietly spread Google’s views on the union tech workplace.
Judge Paul Bogas ordered Google to comply with parts of the subpoena to obtain documents related to the Vivian project, as well as Google’s hiring of advisers to anti-union firm IRI. In November, Bogas issued a similar order on other documents about Vivian and the IRI; the subpoena covers more than 1,500 documents.
The subpoena is part of an NLRB case filed in December 2019 by seven Google employees and former employees. (One former employee has since settled.) Five workers were fired after engaging in workplace activism, including efforts to improve their jobs, two were disciplined on the terms of Google’s contractors, and a petition was circulated calling on the company to end its relationship with Contracts for U.S. government agencies involved in immigration deportation and family separation. Paul Duke, one of the fired employees who brought the allegations, said organizing was part of an effort to lay the foundations for a union.
Responding to former employees’ claims that they were fired in retaliation for workplace organizations, a Google spokesperson wrote: “The underlying case here has nothing to do with union organizing. It’s about employees violating clear security protocols to inappropriately access confidential information and systems.” – References to internal documents accessed by employees.
Duke categorically denied claims he and his colleagues violated security protocols, saying all engineers had access to the files, which the company later classified as “need to know.”
In its objection to the subpoena, Google claimed attorney-client privilege and “work product privilege” to protect materials prepared in anticipation of litigation. Bogas rejected many of those claims, calling one assertion “to put it mildly, an overreach.” In an effort to characterize a potential union election as a lawsuit and thus privileged, he writes, “Defendants cannot turn the fact of a nascent organizing effort among employees into a ‘suit’ — like straw spinning into gold — — giving it the right to hide privileges in all aspects of its anti-union movement.”
Bogas’ order cited efforts by Google executives, including company counsel Christina Latta, “to find a ‘respected voice’ to publish an op-ed outlining a unionized tech what the workplace will look like” and urged Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Google not to unionize. Kara Silverstein, Google’s director of human resources, told Latta in an internal message that she liked the idea, “but it should be done so that ‘there will be no fingerprints and will not be specific to Google,’ the order said. ‘.” According to the order, the IRI later provided Latta with a proposed draft of the op-ed; it is unclear whether the article was ever published.