I believe Google fired me for organising – but tech workers won't give up the fight
Tech workers like me will not stay silent about our employers' unethical behaviour
Last week I was fired by Google for informing my colleagues of their rights. I created a pop-up that appeared when Google employees visited the website of the union-busting firm the company recently hired, telling them they had the right to organise. Hours later, I was suspended.
Google’s decision to retaliate against its own workers isn’t just an issue for Googlers, but for the entire tech industry, including other large companies like Amazon and Facebook. By preventing tech workers from having any influence on their management, it makes it very difficult, even impossible, to hold these tech giants to account.
Google became a tech giant by hiring employees unconstrained by traditional workplace rules – including the cardinal rule of not criticising your employer. Google celebrated, even boasted about, its culture of honesty.
Yet over the past two years, this culture completely evaporated. Employees began calling out the company for unethical behaviour. In response, Google began cancelling the weekly town halls that have been a tradition at Google since its inception. The company has recently stepped up its efforts to quash its employees attempts to organise, hiring a union-busting firm and terminating employees like me for attempting to keep its “do no evil” mantra alive.
Gradually, thousands of workers realised that while a single voice can be discounted, ignored or punished, a collective one could not - and so they began to organise.
Google claims my actions violated its rules. Yet many current and former Google workers have come forward to deny this. My sole “terminable” action was circulating a link to the American National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) post that Google was required to share as part of a settlement of another recent unfair labour practice charge.
Tech is deeply embedded in our daily lives. A handful of companies have access to the vast majority of our personal data. With this great power comes great responsibility: the responsibility to refuse the immoral use of technology; to allow employees to voice their dissent; to refrain from compelling any employee to contribute their labour to harmful projects.
Workers at Google and other tech companies can’t be morally blind, they can not afford to stand on the sidelines. They -- we -- have the power to think critically and to dissent against products and decisions that harm our communities. Some may wonder why I am fighting for employee’s right to a collective voice when tech workers have high pay and strong benefits - the answer is simple: Unions, the right for employees to come together and speak with a voice, allows workers a say in how their work is being used by a company that is a part of Americans’ daily lives. It grants employees the courage and the safety to speak up and not fear for their jobs or fear retaliation like what I and the four others Google recently fired faced.
My compulsion to fight for what’s right cost me my dream job at Google, a place I fantasised about working at since I was in sixth grade. But my firing didn’t only take away my employment: it also brought me the bitter realisation that dissent – fundamental criticism, not just the superficial kind – isn’t welcome at Google. Google long claimed it was open to criticism, but in reality, the company fears being held accountable for the safety, security, and privacy of their users and workforce.
I am now pursuing legal options, one possible outcome of which would be reinstatement to my team at Google. I would go back because I love Google’s users and believe it’s my responsibility to give them the best security possible. I believed in my work at Google and what’s more, I believe we can collectively do better. I believe in the workers who are fighting to shift the company’s culture despite the threat of firing. I believe that by giving workers the respect we deserve, we can do better for users.
Workers at Google and other tech companies cannot afford to stand on the sidelines while tech companies make decisions that harm their stakeholders. We cannot be neutral on decisions such as whether AI should be developed for US military drones, or whether we should sign contracts with agencies that put kids in cages. Our silence makes us culpable. It is time to speak up – together.